Oral Alternatives to Traditional Written Lab Reports

Veronica M. Berns*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The importance of clear, concise communication in science should be a tenet of every chemistry classroom, beginning with general chemistry. Unfortunately, the traditional written lab report often asks students to rehearse a format rather than practice communicating ideas clearly. In first-year student courses, instructors at Northwestern University have been exploring postlab assignments that require skill sets beyond formal writing. The experiment is designed to build student interest and engagement with the material. Lab reports in alternative formats allow students to use their existing communication skills for scientific purposes. In the process, instructors aim to build confidence and self-efficacy for general chemistry students. One such assignment follows an experiment on synthesis and crystal growth of potassium aluminum sulfate (alum). Students take home a jar of saturated solution and create a video diary, commenting on equilibrium effects and the progress of the crystal growth throughout the quarter. In the videos, students freely talk to the camera as if they were discussing these topics with another student, unlocking their colloquial understanding of the chemistry. Breaking down the standard structure turns the focus of the assignment away from formalities, instead emphasizing the scientific content. While the students admittedly practice formal science writing less, they do get more practice developing a solid understanding using their own words. The aim is to give them the ability to translate their strong comprehension into any format requested of them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-117
Number of pages7
JournalACS Symposium Series
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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