For labs that were originally designed to be face-to-face in a laboratory, it can be difficult to envision how these experiences can translate to a hybrid or online learning environment. When students do not have access to specific equipment or a space to safely conduct various experiments, we have to find creative solutions. Here are some questions to consider when re-thinking your lab session for a flexible course:
Define the overall goal(s) of your lab experience. We have identified four overarching goals, independent of discipline. Do your goals include one or more of these?
Suggestions for each goal are included in the following sections. Click the goal to jump to that point on the page.
Consider the resources that you will need to deliver and manage your virtual lab. For each of these lab goals, there are a variety of options for delivering and managing a virtual lab: Online simulations, demonstration videos, lab kits, guided inquiry exercises with real data, etc. In many cases, you may be able to find existing online materials that demonstrate the technique or principle covered in your lab. Visit Where can I find reliable content? to learn more. You can also check with your professional society (e.g., American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, etc.) or textbook publisher – many have identified and vetted teaching materials and other online resources that could be used and/or adapted for a lab.
In special cases, you may need to create your own virtual lab demonstrations, either live or recorded. For resources and strategies on creating your own videos, visit How do I create video materials?
If your goal is for students to be able to use a particular technique, online simulations or videos will be helpful. To check that students have learned the technique, you can:
If your goal is for students to visualize a principle (that is, the lab is a demonstration), you may be able to find high-quality online demonstrations at some of the same sources linked above. Here are some ideas to help students learn from the demonstration:
If your goal is for students to be able to interpret experimental data, you can find and share data sets from a variety of sources. Published literature often includes data sets that can be reworked for a data analysis project. You could also use data collected from student reports in previously taught courses.
Carrying out experiments at home. If your goal is to have students do authentic research projects, your students can design and carry out experiments with items that they have available or through purchased lab kits. Students can then present data, interpretations and predictions; design the experiments to address the next question or present the next hypothesis. For example, one physics professor asked his students to use a magnet in one of the objects they had at home to illustrate a principle and create a video explanation.
Conducting field research. Citizen science projects through iNaturalist and Zooniverse can give students an opportunity to observe various phenomena, collect real data and share their findings with the broader scientific community.
Presenting findings. Students can make brief videos of their at-home experiments or field research by:
For any of these options, break down the assignment into smaller steps where the students can get feedback from the instructor or from peers (or use self-reflection) to improve on the next step and the final project.
Flexible Teaching guides were developed by Duke Learning Innovation and adapted for NIU by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. They are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
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