September 17, 2021

Covering Labs

How to Rethink Science Lab Classes | Inside Higher Education

John D. Loike and Marian Stolz-Loike
Five objectives for online science labs that lend themselves to virtual teaching.

Online Psychology Laboratory | American Psychological Association
Faculty can access psychology demonstrations, experiments, and datasets. The OPL library of demonstrations provides interactive studies and examples to explain, explore and apply psychological concepts in seven areas: Biological Bases, History, Lifespan Development, Memory, Methods, Motivation & Emotion, and Sensation & Perception.

Run lab activities | Indiana University
Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:

  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure (for example, a building versus the entire campus), your campus teaching and learning center might be able to help set up alternate computer labs that have the software your students need.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.

Labs | University of Michigan
If in-person classes are suspended, experimental lab work may need to be postponed until later in the term. The following ideas, however, may help you modify your labs so that remote participants can engage or so that you may teach them fully online.

Consider altering lab activities. For instance, you may shift the focus from data collection to data analysis. 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 an AI completing the lab and ask students to take the necessary measurements and observations from the video. Students can then complete the analysis and reflection as usual. Students can collaborate on analysis and reporting using email, Canvas, or other collaborative tools.

Explore alternative forms of instruction. Online simulations, which allow students to interact virtually with the equipment and lab conditions, may offer valuable practice for students. Many online resources are available, including many that are free. A few that may be of interest include (but are not limited to):

Adapted from Princeton’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning

ChemCollective | joint project from NSF, Carnegie Mellon, and NSDL
Free, online chemistry lab simulations in areas such as Stoichiometry, Thermochemistry, Equilibrium, Acid-Base Chemistry, Solubility, Oxidation/Reduction and Electrochemistry, and Analytical Chemistry/Lab Techniques.

Labs | Cal Poly Pomona
Use the following resources to help you deliver your lab online. Employ one of many learning objects authored by our CPP faculty on  eLearning’s Multimedia Learning Object's Repository. Here are some examples of the use of learning objects for labs throughout different disciplines:

Consider creating video demonstrations of techniques for pre- or post- lab work. Some of the tools that you can use on your MAC or Windows laptop for video creation are:

  • Powerpoint to record presentation slides with narration, 
  • Camtasia to record your screen for the creation of software demonstrations, simulations, and presentations, and
  • Adobe Spark Video to create simple explanations by using photos, video clips, and icons to your voice narration. 

Online Resources for Science Labs | Crowdsourced
A crowdsourced list of online resources for science labs. As the document notes, the specific resources are not endorsed or vetted before inclusion, and faculty should first vet and discuss with others at their institution as to the viability/safety of what they intend to use.

Digital Options for Teaching Tiny Earth Labs and Activities | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Sarah Miller
Crowdsourced list of general resources for digital science and online labs.

Principles to Guide Design of Outdoor Science and Environmental Education Distance Learning Experiences | Beetles
Offers a detailed guide to designing effective virtual outdoor science and environmental learning experiences including defining designs with goals, describing different formats for distance learning, and sharing best practices for designing effective learning experiences including specific recommendations for distance learning settings.