Effective Learning with Pre-Laboratory Videos: A Practical Teaching Strategy 

Students and instructors working in a lab together

Crafting an effective teaching experience parallels the art of carpentry as both require a diverse and well-equipped toolbox. Just as a carpenter needs various tools to create a masterpiece, educators recognized for their teaching excellence possess an intricate toolbox that includes active learning techniques, inclusive teaching practices, community-building morals, and engaging instruction. Much like a carpenter meticulously plans and measures before cutting into wood, pre-laboratory videos provide students with a detailed and visual understanding, serving as an outline to help prepare for upcoming laboratory sessions. Not only do they simplify complex concepts but also significantly enhance teaching and learning (Chan & Fok, 2009; Onyeaka et al., 2022; Ouyang et al., 2018). In the same way that precise measurements contribute to the success of a carpentry project, pre-laboratory videos lay the groundwork for a successful hands-on experience in the lab. By providing students with a clear roadmap, these videos act as foundational tools, ensuring that students are well-prepared and equipped to tackle the intricacies of the lab. In both cases, these tools serve as foundational elements that contribute to the overall success and quality of the end product – be it a finely crafted piece of woodwork or a comprehensive educational experience.  

Creating optimal pre-lab videos 

The applicability of pre-lab videos span across a variety of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) laboratory-based disciplines including biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and engineering. For optimal effectiveness, these videos should align with the student learning outcomes, aiming to inform, excite, and prepare students for their upcoming laboratory activities. 

Effective pre-lab videos must have well-defined learning outcomes. Additionally, the creation of the video doesn’t have to be complex as basic tools like smartphones are adequate. To maintain student interest in the pre-lab videos, it is recommended to produce concise, segmented videos lasting no more than 10 minutes. The incorporation of cue statements can retain the viewer’s focus and emphasize essential concepts and real-world connections. 

The next step is editing. Various resources like Camtasia, Apple iMovie, Vimeo, or Adobe Premiere Pro can be used. To facilitate student comprehension of the material, short annotations can be embedded to elucidate key points. Research indicates that such captions improve comprehension, retention, and attention (Gernsbacher, 2015). Brief annotations also assist in visualizing the spelling of specific terms or structures. 

Once editing is complete, the videos should be uploaded in a timely fashion, allowing accessibility before lab sessions. One of the main benefits of pre-lab videos is the ability for students to view the videos anywhere and at any time. Furthermore, uploading pre-lab videos to an online platform (e.g., YouTube, Echo 360, Panopto, etc.) grants students the convenience of watching the videos repeatedly if they desire.  

An optional task for students that may be incorporated within the video is a pre-lab quiz. This way one can assess the impact of video on student learning (Onyeaka et al., 2022). Completion of the pre-lab quiz before the laboratory session begins is recommended to keep the students on track. Assigning a small number of points associated with the pre-lab quizzes allows students to accumulate “low-stakes” points, potentially benefiting their overall grade.  

Benefits of pre-lab videos: 

  1. Enhancing preparedness for laboratory sessions 

Research in anatomy education indicates that pre-lab videos allow students to create spatial awareness, understand laboratory objectives, and recognize dissection techniques, thereby maximizing their lab time (DiLullo et al., 2006; Saxena et al., 2008). Due to the large volume of material in laboratory courses, pre-lab videos are beneficial to students as they help establish an understanding of the upcoming laboratory tasks. Evidence suggests that viewing these videos before lab sessions enhances students’ confidence and preparedness (Greene, 2020), a trend likely applicable to other STEM disciplines. 

  1. Improving academic performance: 

The most beneficial aspect of incorporation of pre-lab videos is their positive effect on student grades. Multiple studies in anatomy education show that even limited use of these videos can improve quiz and exam scores (Al-Khalili & Coppoc, 2014; DiLullo et al., 2006; Greene, 2020; Topping, 2014). Research in our lab has found positive, statistically significant correlations between number of pre-lab videos viewed and certain exam scores, with the strongest correlation being for the lower quartile specifically. Significant correlations were also found between average exam score and total number of pre-lab videos viewed throughout the semester, and final course grade and total time spent viewing all pre-lab videos. Positive, statistically significant correlations were found between average pre-lab quiz score and exam score. Furthermore, a thematic analysis of student comments revealed pre-lab videos appeared to have been a beneficial part of the course, providing students with a valuable resource for preparation, study, and increased understanding and confidence (Hansen, Basel, Curtis, & Malreddy, in press). Such visual aids cater to diverse learning styles, allowing students to engage with content more interactively and effectively, especially beneficial for visual learners. 

  1. Accessibility and flexibility: 

Because pre-lab videos are available online, students have the flexibility of viewing the videos at their convenience. They can pause, rewind, or rewatch the videos to further their understanding of the material. The integration of pre-lab quizzes, due before lab sessions, encourages ongoing engagement with the videos. In our lab, we have observed students utilizing the pre-lab videos during lab time as a method of troubleshooting (Hansen, Basel, Curtis, & Malreddy, in press). These videos also serve as a valuable resource for students who miss classes, offering them an opportunity to preview missed material. 

Disadvantages 

Despite their benefits, pre-laboratory videos are not without drawbacks: 

  1. Time-consuming production: Creating quality videos requires significant time and effort. But this can be mitigated by collaborative efforts among faculty, sharing resources across departments, or even incorporating student-generated content as part of their learning process. 
  1. Technology dependence: Over-reliance on videos could lead to reduced hands-on learning experiences. This can be balanced by using videos as a supplementary tool rather than a replacement for practical sessions. 
  1. Potential misinterpretation: Without proper guidance, students might misinterpret video content and therefore, it’s crucial to accompany videos with guided discussions, Q&A sessions, or even detailed notes. 

Pre-laboratory videos are more than just a teaching aid; they represent a strategic approach to education that aligns with modern learning styles. While offering clear advantages, they require careful implementation to maximize their potential and avoid pitfalls. In an era where digital learning tools are increasingly prevalent, pre-lab videos stand out as a valuable resource for enhancing student engagement and understanding. 


Chandler Hansen, MS, is a doctoral student in the Department of Anatomy & Physiology at Kansas State University. Her research interests include anatomy education, teaching, and learning with recent work focusing on the use of supplemental resources in veterinary anatomy education. Hansen is a graduate research assistant at Kansas State University and holds teaching responsibilities in both the veterinary and one-year master’s curriculum.

Dr. Pradeep Malreddy is a clinical associate professor at Kansas State University, specializing in anatomy and histology. Holding a DVM from India and an MS from Kansas State, he brings a blend of clinical and academic expertise. He has additional certifications in medical education research and online teaching from AAMC and Harvard. Dr. Malreddy has developed a one-year master’s program at K-State and teaches courses in anatomy, histology, and physiology. His research focuses on anatomy education, eye-tracking technology, and active learning. An active member of professional organizations like the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, he has received accolades for teaching excellence and diversity initiatives. He was recently honored with membership in the United Kingdom’s prestigious Academy of Medical Educators.

References 

Al-Khalili, Sereen M., and Gordon L. Coppoc (2014). “2D and 3D Stereoscopic Videos Used as Pre-Anatomy Lab Tools Improve Students’ Examination Performance in a Veterinary Gross Anatomy Course.” Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 41 (1): 68–76. https://doi.org/10.3138/jvme.0613-082R. 

 Chan, Cecilia, and Wilton Fok (2009). “Evaluating Learning Experiences in Virtual Laboratory Training through Student Perceptions: A Case Study in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Hong Kong.” Engineering Education 4 (2): 70–75. https://doi.org/10.11120/ened.2009.04020070. 

 DiLullo, Camille, Patrick Coughlin, Marina D’Angelo, Michael McGuinness, Jesse Bandle, Eric M. Slotkin, Scott A. Shainker, Christopher Wenger, and Scott J. Berray (2006). “Anatomy in a New Curriculum: Facilitating the Learning of Gross Anatomy Using Web Access Streaming Dissection Videos.” Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine 29 (3): 99–108. https://doi.org/10.1080/01405110601080738. 

 Gernsbacher, Morton Ann (2015). “Video Captions Benefit Everyone.” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2 (1): 195–202. https://doi.org/10.1177/2372732215602130. 

 Greene, Sarah J (2020). “The Use of Anatomical Dissection Videos in Medical Education.” Anatomical Sciences Education 13 (1): 48–58. https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.1860. 

 Hansen, Chandler, Matthew T. Basel, Andrew Curtis, and Pradeep Malreddy. (in press). “Pre-Lab Videos as a Supplemental Teaching Tool in First-Year Veterinary Gross Anatomy.” Journal of Veterinary Medical Education

 Onyeaka, Helen, Paolo Passaretti, Taghi Miri, Abarasi Hart, Claudia Favero, Christian K. Anumudu, and Phillip Robbins (2022). “Pre‐lab Video Demonstrations to Enhance Students’ Laboratory Experience in a First‐year Chemical Engineering Class.” Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, October, bmb.21688. https://doi.org/10.1002/bmb.21688. 

 Ouyang, Shu-Guang, Gang Wang, Jun-Yan Yao, Guang-Heng-Wei Zhu, Zhao-Yue Liu, and Chi Feng (2018). “A Unity3D-Based Interactive Three-Dimensional Virtual Practice Platform for Chemical Engineering.” Computer Applications in Engineering Education 26 (1): 91–100. https://doi.org/10.1002/cae.21863. 

 Saxena, Varun, Pradeep Natarajan, Patricia S. O’Sullivan, and Sharad Jain (2008). “Effect of the Use of Instructional Anatomy Videos on Student Performance.” Anatomical Sciences Education 1 (4): 159–65. https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.38. 

 Topping, Daniel B (2014). “Gross Anatomy Videos: Student Satisfaction, Usage, and Effect on Student Performance in a Condensed Curriculum: Gross Anatomy Videos: Effect on Student Performance.” Anatomical Sciences Education 7 (4): 273–79. https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.1405.