Using assessment audits to understand students’ learning obstacles


  • Rebecca LeBard
  • Rosanne Quinnell


Undergraduate science students are given opportunities to link the descriptions of scientific phenomena presented in lectures to their own observations of similar scientific phenomena in practical classes so as to reinforce key concepts. Being able to conceptually move between the scientific phenomena and the abstracted figures or equations that represent those phenomena is a key skill. Developing this skill, and confidence with applying this skill, is the implicit objective of many undergraduate practical classes. However, students seem unable to adequately explain their observations, despite the implementation of many “how to” guides, and this is of concern, which is why we seek to identify some of the factors that seem to impede students from being able to correctly translate and explain scientific data. We audited 118 laboratory reports in from second year molecular biology students to assess students’ abilities to correctly record and calculate data, appropriately present data, and clearly explain the representation of their data. Each of these abilities were linked to criteria in the report marking scheme students had been provided and for the purpose of our audit, graded as to whether the students completed the task poorly or not at all (1), adequately with some errors (2), or correctly and clearly (3). The data showed that a high proportion of students could not complete these tasks correctly and confirms that students have difficulty moving between the phenomena they observe and its abstract presentation. Having identified and quantified where students are having difficulties, we will use this information to inform the design of an online learning module to improve the conceptual linkages between a) an observed scientific phenomenon, b) the experimental data c) how these data are presented and d) interpreted. We expect to be able to determine the efficacy of this approach by re-auditing laboratory reports, after the online module is in place.