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Responding to the concern from our faculty that undergraduate students do not have robust laboratory skills, we designed and implemented a strategy to individually teach and assess the manipulative skills of students in first-year laboratories. Five core laboratory skills were selected for the course entitled Human Biology, a large, first-year class of students, most of whom were enrolled in Bachelor of Pharmacy and Human Movement Studies. Here, we report details for the 365 students enrolled primarily in Pharmacy and Human Movement Studies bachelor degree programs in semester 1 of 2006. We designed a specific strategy to assess five core laboratory skills: 1) accurate and precise use of a micropipette, 2) calculation of dilutions and preparation of diluted samples of saline, 3) accurate representation of data using a graph, 4) use of a light microscope, and 5) acquisition of digital data by measuring the latent period for the Achilles reflex. Graduate tutors were trained to teach and assess each student on each skill. The development of competency was tracked for all students across all five skills. Most students demonstrated proficiency on their first attempt. The development of proficiency across the core skills depended on both the skill and degree program. In semester 2 of 2006, 854 students mostly enrolled in the Bachelor of Science degree program and were similarly taught and assessed on the same five core skills. This approach was an effective teaching and assessment strategy that, when applied beyond first year, should increase the level of laboratory skills across undergraduate programs in physiology.
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