Non-Laboratory Project-Based Learning for Final Year Bioscience Students: Lessons From COVID-19

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Background: Provision of “dry-lab” final year honours projects, based outside the laboratory, have been proposed as a viable alternative to traditional “wet-lab” projects in bioscience subjects, but their value has not been widely evaluated to date. In 2020–21, the COVID-19 pandemic meant all students in the School of Biomedical Sciences at Ulster University (UU) undertook dry-lab projects, due to campus lockdown. Therefore, this provided an ideal opportunity to evaluate the provision of dry-lab projects in a large student cohort. Methods: A pilot group of final year students (n = 4) studying Biomedical Science at UU were interviewed to evaluate their experience of conducting a dry-lab project. This evaluation and the themes that emerged were subsequently used to inform the co-creation of a survey to appraise student experience of dry-lab research project learning across the final year student cohort in School of Biomedical Sciences (n = 140). Quantitative and qualitative data was collected and analysed for trends and themes. Results: The results of this project identified four main themes related to dry-lab projects; expectations, skills & employability, quality of experience and choice. Student expectations about dry-lab projects were not dramatically changed, although initial negative opinions of some individuals were over-turned. Most students recognised that they had developed many useful employability skills through dry-lab projects, although lack of practical laboratory experience was still perceived as a drawback. Student experience was influenced by personal circumstances but students reporting poor project experience had significantly lower levels of communication with supervisor (p < 0.05). Most students agreed that choice of dry- and wet-lab projects would be valuable for future cohorts. Conclusion: This report concludes that dry-lab project provision can be a suitable and equitable alternative for wet-lab projects. Dry-lab projects can be valuable for learning new skills and may be an attractive option for some students and supervisors who prefer to work outside the laboratory setting. A choice of both dry-lab and wet-lab projects is highly recommended as it provides more choice for students to tailor their final year experience to their individual circumstances, strengths and future career aspirations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11561
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Biomedical Science
Early online date21 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 21 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to Amanda Platt, and Sarah Floyd in CHERP at UU for their constant guidance and valued suggestions over the duration of the project, which helped me approach the topic with clarity and focus. In School of Biomedical Sciences at UU, thanks to Maria Mulhern for help in using RedCAP for the survey and to Cynthia Stafford for helping to interview students. To the students who comprised the pilot group in this survey (Richard, Amy, Yasmin, Alexandra) and to all students who gave of their time to complete survey, my thanks and my best wishes for the future. Be excellent to each other.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 McKenna.


  • honours project
  • COVID-19
  • bioscience
  • dry-lab
  • wet-lab


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