Much thanks to Karen Muncaster (Dean, Woods College of Advancing Studies) for authoring this page.
Considerations for Remote Labs
Science labs are often either integrated as components of larger lecture courses (lab sections) or comprise the entirety of smaller lab courses. In both scenarios it is worth defining what the labs are meant to achieve before selecting an online alternative. Below are three possible scenarios based on the focus of the labs. Since your labs are likely a combination of these scenarios then you could likewise combine these recommendations keeping in mind the appropriate level of time commitment for the combined activities.
If the focus is on learning techniques and their application to specific experimental situations, consider asking your students to engage in online simulations that may cover at least portions of, if not the entirety of a protocol.
- Harvard’s LabXchange has just released a suite of lab simulations with assessments that focus on basic molecular biology techniques; MERLOT offers a collection of virtual labs in a variety of science disciplines; PHET offers interactive simulations that allow students to vary parameters; and many textbooks also provide interactive lab-based resources.
- You might consider having your students watch videos of experiments; you can ask your students to first make predictions and then discuss the results. The Journal of Visualized Experimentsoffers thousands of videos of experiments, including many designed for students.
If the focus is on interpreting experimental data, consider extracting datasets from the published literature that are aligned with the experiments students would have encountered in lab and develop problem sets that focus on the interpretation of the data. One could also combine the experimental protocols with interspersed questions that explore the reasons behind specific steps so that students gain deeper intuition into why certain procedures are performed. In place of actually performing the experiment, students can gain a critique-based understanding of the method followed by data interpretation.
- One type of question you may want to ask students involves providing them with a random sequence of steps involved in the experimental methodology, and asking them to put them in the correct logical order. This requires students to critically understand why each step has to come before the next in a protocol. You can also provide students with a blank step, which they would need to fill in for themselves once they identify what step is missing. An example of such a question from LabXchange can be found here (click on “Design” on the right-hand side).
If the focus is on project-based lab research, as is often the case in lab courses, your students have already been working on their projects since the start of the term. Furthermore, there is usually a capstone assignment in the form of a final paper, grant application and/or poster that describes their work, both with context and future directions defined. Consider asking your students to switch to the capstone assignment now with an emphasis on interpreting the data they have already gathered or if they have not generated their own data yet, focus on having them predict their experimental outcomes and design the next experimental steps in detail. Divide up the rest of the semester into draft submissions of sections of the capstone that will allow you to provide formative feedback and enable your students to experience experimental design, further hypothesis building, and predictive data analysis. This approach aligns especially well with a written capstone styled like a grant application.
The above recommendations combine what resources are available to support virtual lab exercises with assignments that combine data interpretation with the experience of experimental design, hypothesis building, and self-reflexive critiques of the methods and outcomes that students develop.
Additional STEM-specific resources:
- Science/Labs: Online science simulations, lab resources, and other media that may be useful.
- Science lab resources from Harvard: Open to users anywhere, this page has a combo of strategy tips and links to lab resources
- Online Lab Toolkit from Penn State
- National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
- Arizona State University’s virtual field trips
- Various video labs from NC State: Chemistry, GeoForAll
- JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments): All science video content is free through June 15.
- Biology: Includes links to some open-source data sets as well as more general tips on teaching biology online suddenly
- Biology labs: Introductory biology lab material from JoVE, free through 15 June 2020.
- Biology: Core textbook from JoVE, free through 15 June 2020
- iBiology provides access to 100s of talks by scientists
- ChemCollective’s virtual labs
- Ecology and Environmental Science Materials for Teaching Online: Crowdsourced document
- Geology: 2-D and 3-D fossils, courtesy of the University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology
- Geology: Andrew Moseman, “How a Beloved Geology Field Trip Went Virtual,” Cal Tech
- Geosciences: A crowd-sourced spreadsheet covering online lectures, online labs and field trips, guest lecturers, online resources
- Gradescope, a tool built to ease the grading burden in large courses, is now offering a free trial through June 30th. While it is not currently supported by BC, Gradescope itself is offering some trainings for those new to its services.
- Math: The Association of Mathematics Educators facebook page is one place where people are sharing ideas.
- Math: The Mathematical Association of America’s “Guide to Evidence-Based Instructional Practices in Undergraduate Mathematics” has a section on on-line assessment (pp. 78-82)
- Physics/Astronomy: The American Association of Physics Teachers maintains PhysPort where they have gathered recommendations for moving Labs online, free resources for gathering and analyzing data, and Labs that can be done at home with minimal equipment.
- Psychology: the American Psychological Association maintains an Online Psychology Laboratory, in which students can engage in experiments, or analyze available data. See also the Teaching of Psychology Idea eXchange (ToPIX), developed by APA’s Division 2, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP).
- Social Psychology: Core textbook from JoVE, available free through 15 June 2020