The Self Start

What is it and why is it important?

The delivery of a REActivity is predicated on the removal of a pre-lab lecture. The proper flow of a typical REActivity lab begins with the student arriving, putting away their bag, jacket, etc. and approaching their station. They can then often begin gathering their materials while waiting for their partner to arrive. If a partner is late or absent, they can be instructed to work with the pair next door.

Why remove the pre-lab lecture?

  • There does not seem to be any cognitive gains from having a 30 minute PRE-lab lecture. The students are ready to get started even if they come in cold without any preparative background work.

  • The self-start fosters a more independent student mind-set. The self-start is not widely embraced by instructors when REActivities are first adopted but after about two lab weeks, the students fall into a comfortable rhythm and the instructors begin to buy in.

  • The absence of a pre-lab also removes the burden of a lecture from a graduate instructor or an unpredicted late teaching assignment.

  • The absence of a pre-lab lecture also removes the burden of hard stop labs. If your institution has three hour lab periods and the students need more time to complete a REActivity (eg. time ran out for a few students to take a melting point), then given the self-starting nature of REActivities, students have the freedom to complete work from the prior week before starting the next REActivity. This works well as long as there is graded material flexibility by the instructor. This flexibility also emphasizes to the student the importance of completion and quality of work over rushing to simply check a box.

Common Questions

What if my institution has a dedicated pre-lab lecture?

If your institution has a separate lab lecture hour, one suggestion is using this hour as a post-lab session rather than a pre-lab session to discuss results, surprises, post-lab inquiries, etc.

What do you recommend for students who are uncomfortable coming into a lab cold?

You will undoubtedly have some students who really miss the pre-lab lecture or reading assignment and feel they benefit from it and pine its absence. To accommodate those students who feel the need to do something to prepare themselves, many instructors choose to post a short (under 5-8 minutes) YouTube link to a technique that best mirrors the equipment used in their lab to demonstrate the physical aspects of performing the technique covered that week. The virtual lab videos can also be assigned to give students an idea of what to anticipate. Additionally, instructors report that the savviest of students look ahead to the post-lab questions before starting the REActivity and thus can recommend this practice when students approach them with the need for some preparation prior to entering the lab.

Do you have a question about the self start?

If so, email us here:

What are REActivities?

Instructional Freedoms

Opportunities for Haptic Learning

Coordinating Lab Sections

Contact Information:

Dr. Tina Goudreau Collison

Professor of Chemistry

Rochester Institute of Technology