Making lab-based content accessible (Science)

Making lab-based content accessible (Science)

Monica Kam from Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science used H5P to present laboratory content to students in BIOSCI 107 Biology for Biomedical Science: Cellular Processes and Development. You will find this useful if you are interested in blended learning, teaching remotely and making lab-based content more accessible.

H5P is an abbreviation for ‘HTML5 Package’ which uses the HTML5 programming language to create interactive online content. There are a range of tools available with H5P including video imagery, dialogue cards, branching scenarios and interactive books for example.


This project was developed for a large class of around 1500 first-year students taking the course BIOSCI 107 Biology for Biomedical Science: Cellular Processes and Development. BIOSCI 107 lies within the discipline of Biomedical science. Typically, a variety of students take this paper, majoring in subjects like Biology, Biomedical Science, Bioengineering, Sports Science, Nursing or other health-related disciplines. The course aims to teach students about cells and tissues, cell structure and function, the blood and immune system, cellular processes and excitable tissues such as muscle and neural tissues. Lab-based activities are a core part of the learning experience in the course.

Image 1. Activity where students can view, measure and analyse a set of experimental results. Answers can be checked by drag-and-drop.

Monica and her team had to think of alternative ways to teach lab content remotely,  due to Covid-19 restrictions. The content included:

  • A lab on genetic processing.
  • A lab on haematology.
  • A lab on osmolarity
  • A lab on muscle function

The learning need was to replicate some of the visual and interactive aspects of a real lab. The tools used included H5P, videos and Canvas quizzes. Various laws and policies had to be considered, for example the copyright of images. In terms of equity issues subtitles were used in all video content for the hearing-impaired. Image 1 shows an activity which allows the students to view a set of experimental results, measure and analyse them. They can then check their answers by  drag-and-drop.

Design: challenges and process

It was the disruption of an Anzac Day public holiday falling during a lab week that first prompted Monica and the project team to look into converting a haematology lab into an online exercise. This was possible because cell counting could be done on an image instead of under a microscope. However, the sudden lockdown that occurred at the beginning of 2020 forced the team to create more online labs for the course. Given that this was a large class of first-year students, the team was conscious of the need to make lab submission as simple as possible (no uploading of documents, no need to access multiple resources).

In terms of planning and design, mostly Monica planned and created the H5P lab modules herself. However, a large team of Graduate Teaching Assistants and Teaching Assistants helped to test and refine the lab modules. Students were encouraged to complete the lab modules and to contact their tutors on Piazza if they had any questions. The lab modules included some unmarked activities for formative learning followed by questions that were marked for summative grading.

Implementation and evaluation

What worked well?

Monica’s initial creations relied on H5P only and its reporting function. Later, she realised that there were several issues with this:

  • Automatic import of grades into Canvas Gradebook was not always reliable.
  • H5P answers were not encrypted and therefore not secure for summative grading.
  • Format meant it was unable to assess more complex skills like drawing, graphing and essay writing etc.

The student feedback as shown in Figure 1, however, indicated that they enjoyed these H5P-only labs because it was simple to use and was self-contained.

Figure 1. Student Feedback

One example of student feedback: “It was fun! Cool to put the learning to practical use. Shame we couldn’t have the real-life experience due to covid, but this online lab did a very good job of conveying this experience and I really enjoyed it.”

Monica’s 2nd generation creations used embedded H5P formative activities in the ‘instruction’ box of a Canvas Quiz. This method allowed the team to ask students to submit graphs, this is an advantage for teachers as it lets them teach complex skills, however, students really disliked the fact that they had to use different modes of submission (answer quiz questions online AND upload files). They also disliked the fact that they had to answer questions within the H5P activities which they did not realise were not marked, and then have to answer very similar questions again within the summative quiz.

Another example of student feedback:  “I feel like this format has made the lab more challenging and more time consuming. (Drawing the graph especially took some time). Overall it was alright. With this format, we can space out the workload for the lab.”

The 3rd generation of Monica’s creations utilised embedded H5P formative activities within a textbox in Canvas quiz, that are interspersed with marked summative questions within the same Canvas quiz. The disadvantage of this method, is that students need to navigate through the quiz vertically (scroll down) but within some H5P activities, they also need to click through horizontally (move through the slides). The advantage is that Monica was able to ask students summative questions without them feeling it is repetitive. Also, Canvas Quiz allowed for multiple dropdown questions that were not available in H5P and so she was able to ask multi-step questions.

Student feedback on whether the lab in this format was engaging, consolidated existing knowledge, applied existing knowledge was collected, showing a largely positive outcome, as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Student feedback on lab format

Monica shared a few lessons learnt from this project:

Lesson 1: H5P should not be used for summative marking due to issues with encryption. It is easy for tech-savvy students to access answers, creating an inequitable learning experience.

Lesson 2: Students need explicit communication about what questions are formative, and which are summative.

Lesson 3: Students really like visual information, especially the interactive videos that show them activities that they would have carried out in the lab.

Lesson 4: Students prefer if assignment submissions are consistent (one method for the whole semester).

Lesson 5: Always get multiple people to test the resources that are created, because it gives a good idea of how students might interpret a question.

What would you do differently?

Monica reflects: “I would keep the formative activities as embedded H5P activities and ask students to fill in a physical assignment sheet which they are required to scan and upload via Canvas Quiz. This way, they can be tested on a range of complex skills and they only need to upload once. Also it would be clear which portions are assessed and which ones are formative. We have started using this format this year.”

Further resources:

Presentation at UoA Learning Design Community of Interest – Pivoting quickly to H5P to support emergency remote learning