Ingenuity for Undergraduate Lab Productivity: Thinking Outside the Box to Serve Diverse University

Kelly Grossmann Getz, Librarian | 5 min read
Kelly Grossmann Getz, Librarian | 5 min read

2019 JoVE Librarian Travel Award Winning Essay

As the STEM Librarian at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), I work to improve the lab productivity of a diverse population of individuals ranging from undergraduate students to faculty investigators. EMU is a school focused on student learning, thus the main goal of the library is to support undergraduate student success. Secondarily, our librarians assist with the research needs of faculty and graduate students--needs that recently increased when EMU was promoted to a Research II institution. Since my initial hire in 2016, I have worked to improve the lab productivity of our diverse population of students, researchers, and faculty through both online resources and in-person services.

EMU is a mid-sized university located in Ypsilanti, MI, outside of Metro Detroit. Our population includes students from all socioeconomic levels and backgrounds. As a former high school chemistry teacher, I understand that not all students enter college with equal laboratory experience. A lack of lab experience can be a source of anxiety which creates a barrier to success (Kurbanoglu & Akim, 2010). As a librarian, I aim to reduce student anxiety regardless of prior experiences.

To assist in this endeavor, in 2017 I worked within our limited budget to acquire access to the Science Education suite of videos from JoVE. These videos reduce anxiety by allowing students to watch and understand laboratory methods prior to tackling the psychomotor challenges of physical lab work. This promotes productivity by flipping the classroom--students learn techniques outside the class then put what they learned into practice during lab work, saving both time and resources. I promoted the videos as instructional tools and taught faculty how to embed them into their course shells. For the past two years, faculty have provided positive feedback regarding the videos in their labs and currently continue to embed them.

I further promote laboratory productivity through in-person assistance. EMU lab courses are writing-intensive; students’ reports mirror the format of scholarly articles and are expected to cite primary literature contextualizing their hypotheses. Students often take their first lab courses during their freshman year, while they are still becoming familiar with the research process. Early on, I noticed that we received very few questions in the library regarding lab reports, even though the reports required specialized sources. I also heard from teaching faculty that students struggled with finding appropriate sources, yet I was unable to get any instructional time to connect with students in their classes. Thus I faced a problem; students needed help, but were not coming to the library to seek it and I had no other direct means of contact with them.

To solve this problem, I initiated the library’s first collaboration with the Science Success Center (SSC). The SSC hosts tutoring and writing assistance for the sciences. It is physically located in the Science Complex where students attend their science classes. If students were unable to come to the library for assistance, I was determined to bring my assistance to them, thus I relocated my reference hours to the SSC. By placing my services at the point-of-need of the students, I was able to streamline assistance for lab classes and in turn increase the lab productivity and success of students in those courses. The number of students receiving science librarian assistance has increased by 150% since the implementation of the program.

From my work in the SSC, I came to better understand student and faculty misconceptions regarding lab methods. To address this, I constructed a new tool, the Laboratory Methods and Protocols Libguide (https://guides.emich.edu/LabMethods). The guide provides resources for upper-level researchers regarding methods, protocols, reproducibility and replicability. It also provides a laboratory basics section of embedded instructional videos for the most commonly used techniques. Because the guide is new, I have yet to collect metrics, however the initial feedback has been positive.

My work to increase lab productivity has focused on the needs of students learning introductory laboratory skills, but I also strive to meet the needs of our upper-level researchers and faculty. Our school is diverse and so are the needs of our science students and faculty, I plan to continue assessing the strategies laid out here and innovate new strategies to enhance the lab productivity of our unique population.

Kurbanoglu, N. I., & Akim, A. (2010). The relationships between university students’ chemistry laboratory anxiety, attitudes, and self-efficacy beliefs. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(8), 4.

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