A Process for Publishing Labs

In AP Bio, I put a big stress on labs in the gradebook.  Unlike exams, lab reports seem to really document student conceptions of science as a process and provide me with a lot of genuine demonstration of what students are currently thinking about how science works. I only count the experiences that actually have students using the scientific method as labs, and I give students a good long while to write the reports.  This year, I have moved to a format where students are publishing their lab reports online, which has eliminated the need for me to actually collect physical documents.  I’ve also been able to eliminate the need to deal with the grading process (which is rubric driven) in any physical space.  Here’s a brief description of how things go down:

  • Students are given a document explaining the expectations for lab write-ups and the rubric by which they will be graded.
  • Following the completion of the experiment in class, we decide as a group what an acceptable due date for the write up is (I usually shoot for ~3 weeks from the end of the experiment).
  • Students must create the lab in Google Docs (or they could write it in another word processor and then convert it to a GDoc if they want to go through and deal with the inevitable formatting issues).  I’m a bit torn on requiring students to use a specific program, but GDocs has a few features that are very useful for what’s to follow (and it’s FREE!).  Plus it provides students in the same group an easy way to share protocol, data, and any graphs they may decide to create together.
  • Once the lab is created, students do two things.  They give me editor access to the lab, and they make the lab publicly viewable.  Students link to the publicly viewable version of their lab in the comments of a magnet post that I put on the course blog.
  • Once that’s done, I can go into the lab, leave comments about it, etc.
  • I grade the lab according to the rubric on a google spreadsheet that I have made.
  • Once the grade is determined, I use GDocs email function to email the grade to the student.

That’s it.  Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.  The first batch of lab submissions in this new model are coming in right now (the deadline is midnight tonight), and I am impressed with how students are adapting to the new model.  I’ve decided that any student who submits the lab early will be given the chance to revise according to the comments that I leave, which only seems fair, since there always seems to be some areas of the labs that could be a bit better-developed.

It will be interesting to see if the process of requiring students to publish their lab reports will lead to the generation of a higher quality of report.  I’m hopeful that it will.  At the very least, it will provide students with examples from their peers, and that has to be a good thing, no?