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 a remote teaching alternative. Below are possible scenarios based on the focus of the labs. You could combine these recommendations keeping in mind the appropriate level of time commitment for the combined activities.
We've provided links to a wondrous plethora of resources and ideas that your lab teaching team can use if new virtual lab experiences are needed. Our colleagues at other institutions have been gathering resources and sharing with the larger community.
If you would like to request a design consult for your lab teaching team, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for help.
Interpreting experimental data
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 or projects that focus on the interpretation of the data.
Provide students with sample data, perhaps in the form in which it would have been collected, and ask students to complete the analysis as if they had collected the data themselves. For cases where observations are part of the process, consider recording yourself or a TA completing the lab and ask students to take the necessary measurements and observations from the video. The Journal of Visualized Experiments offers thousands of videos of experiments, including many designed for students.
You 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. You can find examples on LabXchange. Students can then complete the analysis and reflection as usual. Students can collaborate on analysis and reporting using email, Canvas, or other collaborative tools.
Learning Laboratory Techniques
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. Many online resources are available, including many that are free. A few that may be of interest include (but are not limited to):
- PhET: Interactive Simulations for Science and Math. All simulations are free and cover topics including physics, chemistry, math, earth science, and biology.
- MERLOT. A collection of virtual labs in a variety of science disciplines
- Physics Simulations. A free collection of physics simulations with changeable parameters and real-time animation.
- ACS: Virtual Chemistry and Simulations. A collection of chemistry simulations and virtual labs compiled by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
- Virtual Labs Project at Stanford. Online interactive media created and shared by Stanford, largely focused on human biology.
- HHMI BioInteractive. Videos and interactive activities provided by HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) focused on biology.
- Harvard’s LabXchange. A suite of lab simulations with assessments that focus on basic molecular biology techniques
- Molecular Expressions: Virtual Microscopy. A collection of virtual microscopes with controls similar to those on physical microscopes.
- Geosciences resource spreadsheet (community collection)
- Ecology and environmental sciences resource spreadsheet (community collection)
- Phone apps such as “Oscilloscope” or “Speed Gun”. These allow students to interact with instruments or lab setups.
- Many textbooks also provide interactive lab-based resources
For a more complete list by subject, view the POD Online Science Simulations and Laboratory Resources
- Be clear in your expectations, and also flexible. Set clear expectations for the work, but keep in mind that students may require more flexibility and understanding as everyone gets accustomed to new ways of doing things.
- Access to software. Identify which software your students might currently only have access to on campus-based computers (as opposed to their personal computers).
- Ask students for feedback along the way. Check in with students to find out how these new activities and methods are working for them.
- Hold live sessions in Zoom. You can still hold your pre-lab lectures or have lab sections scheduled according to the Dartmouth block schedule. Students can use Zoom break out rooms to explore the virtual tools or work through lab data exercises with a partner. Then, you and your TAs can be there to give assistance by popping into a breakout room or being available for questions. Of course, still remember flexibility as not all students might be able to make it or have access.
Thanks to Indiana University, Middlebury, Harvard University, and Princeton University for help in creating this post.