Here’s a nice paper on the use of online pre-lab activites to encourage “cognitive focus” in the lab – in other words to help students consider the underlying theory while doing the practical rather than just following the instructions. I’ve tried to summarise it using the graphic below. In doing so I have had to oversimplifiy some aspects, so if you are interested in it, I recommend you follow up the paper!
The reason I like this paper is that it considers several aspects of pre-labs in a single study:
- cognitive load theory and the development of schemata;
- the use of simulations in reducing intrinsic cognitive load
- the above have been considered before in many studies, but this paper adds in student attitudes to learning to the mix and
- considers a measure of how prelab work allows students to spend more mental effort on the theory underlying the experiment.
- It also refers to the key literature in these topics, so if you are lazy like me, this is a handy reference!
Students’ Cognitive Focus During a Chemistry Laboratory Exercise: Effect of a Computer-Simulated Prelab, TM Winberg, CAR Berg, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2007, 44, 1108.