Case study: Computer managed labs

Physiology and Pharmacology labs Origin

Department of Physiology and Pharmacology
Faculty of Medical and veterinary Sciences
University of Bristol

Tools used

  • SMART Sync 7 and SMART Podium from Smart Tech


Dr Phil Langton,


  • Use technology to manage large group lab teaching more effectively
  • Reduce demands on staff


Undergraduate teaching in Physiology and Pharmacology takes place in large labs, with students looking at tissue samples or doing experiments. Managing a room of 130 students for 2-3 hours at a time could be very demanding for staff. The 5-6 academic staff and post-graduate demonstrators would have to make sure students were working at roughly the same pace, completing all the essential work and staying on task. Staff sometimes struggled to spot all problems or answer student's questions.

What was done

Student computers and large display screens had already been introduced to labs. Students spend most of the sessions working on structured computer-based activities. All student computers are now linked and controlled through the lecturer's computer.

The lecturer's monitor shows a thumbnail image of all student monitors. This makes it very easy to identify any students who are struggling, falling behind or going completely off-task. The lecturer can then take control of the student computers to direct their work.

Other features include:

  • when the lecturer is talking their presentation can be shown on all student monitors as well as the large display screens, improving visibility for students;
  • the system includes a touch-screen monitor and digital pen so that the lecturer can annotate directly onto their presentation;
  • audio and video can be easily incorporated into presentations;
  • the lecturer can add voting questions at any time during the class. These pop up on student screens and the system automatically collates and displays the responses;
  • students mostly work from digital slide images rather than traditional slides, with improved quality and consistency of image;
  • students can type notes directly into these electronic slides and save them in their individual user area for later reference.


This has proved to be a very successful system which is now used in all Physiology and Pharmacology labs. The practical sessions need fewer staff and have become less stressful/demanding and more enjoyable for the staff who teach them.