This paper describes a three‐year experiment to investigate the possibility of making economies by replacing practical laboratory sessions with courseware while attempting to ensure that the quality of the student learning experience did not suffer. Pathology labs are a central component of the first‐year medical undergraduate curriculum at Southampton. Activities in these labs had been carefully designed and they were supervised by lab demonstrators who were subject domain experts. The labs were successful in the eyes of both staff and students but were expensive to conduct, in terms of equipment and staffing. Year by year evaluation of the introduction of courseware revealed that there was no measurable difference in student performance as a result of introducing the courseware, but that students were unhappy about the loss of interaction with the demonstrators. The final outcome of this experiment was a courseware replacement for six labs which included a software online hypertext adviser. The contribution of this work is that it adds to the body of empirical evidence in support of the importance of maintaining dialogue with students when introducing courseware, and it presents an example of how this interaction might be achieved in software
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