Recasting a traditional laboratory practical as a “Design-your-own protocol” to teach a universal research skill

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Laboratory-based practical classes are a common feature of life science teaching, during which students learn how to perform experiments and generate/interpret data. Practical classes are typically instructional, concentrating on providing topic- and technique-specific skills, however to produce research-capable graduates it is also important to develop generic practical skills. To provide an opportunity for students to develop the skills needed to create bespoke protocols for experimental benchwork, a traditional practical was repurposed. Students were given a list of available resources and an experimental goal, and directed to create a bench protocol to achieve the aim (measuring the iron in hemoglobin). In a series of teaching events students received feedback from staff, and peers prototyped the protocols, before protocols were finally implemented. Graduates highlighted this exercise as one of the most important of their degrees, primarily because of the clear relevance of the skills acquired to professional practice. The exercise exemplifies a range of pedagogic principles, but arguably its most important innovation is that it repurposed a pre-existing practical. This had the benefits of automatically providing scaffolding to direct the students' thought processes, while retaining the advantages of a “discovery learning” exercise, and allowing facile adoption of the approach across the sector.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-380
JournalBiochemistry and Molecular Biology Education
Issue number4
Early online date11 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2016


  • practical skills
  • learning outcomes
  • calibration
  • quantitation
  • iron
  • hemoglobin


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