Instructional / Course Design,  Remote Teaching

Remote Lab Experiences

Download: Planning for Modules with Labs

Lab experiences are often rich, hands-on elements of courses that build on learning outcomes from lectures or achieve a different set of outcomes. There are typically three key buildings blocks to any lab experience.

  1. A problem or task
  2. Active completion of a procedure or process
  3. Documenting the process and results

As we plan to offer our labs remotely, there are a number of important questions to consider.

What do you already have?

  • Are there existing online or blended versions of this course that you can draw upon? 
  • Are there individuals experienced with online instruction in your department or unit who could help smooth this transition?
  • What are the important laboratory skills that learners must have in your discipline when they finish this course before they progress to the next level or stage of learning? 
  • What other things are students expected to know and value in this course (overall)?
  • How do students traditionally collaborate and communicate regarding their lab experiences? 

Moving Forward

  • Where and how could students get ‘caught up’ in the future (as the university returns to face-to-face)? 
  • What advice have you received from accrediting bodies and industry regarding remote labs?
  • Where are the small shifts required to do this remotely?

What/how do I want students to be able to articulate or interpret?Knowledge/Values

  • Can students watch videos of the lab experiences being performed and interpret or collect data that way?
  • Should students ‘skip’ the procedure of the lab experience and simply manipulate the data (from a previous year)?
  • Is there alignment (e.g., timing, outcomes) between the lectures, assignments, and the lab experiences?
  • Do students need to be able to create or design the methods or procedures? Is it possible to do this outside a laboratory setting?

What/how do I want students to be able to do or perform? Skills/Abilities

  • Can students be provided with a problem that they can explore and experiment with at home? Could it be done using household materials?
  • Can students be provided with a procedure to follow at home?
  • Are there materials or equipment that could be provided to students at home?
  • If there are experiments they can do at home, what do you want them to submit? Data? Analysis? Conclusions? Photos? Videos?
  • Are there other ways that students can show you that they can ‘do’ or ‘perform’
  • Are there online simulations that students could participate in in place of the real procedure? 
    • PhET is a common resource for physics, chemistry, math, earth science, and biology simulations
    • has a collection of virtual labs
    • Need more options? Here is a crowdsourced list of over 200 different online lab ideas sorted by subject area

Other considerations

Another large consideration is whether or students have to do this lab in the course to meet the course learning outcomes. If the outcomes are able to be met without the lab component, then perhaps the lab can be reduced or suspended during remote delivery. If the lab is crucial to the learning outcomes, then what is the plan to get them to meet these skills? Below is a series of prompts to consider.

How will students do/develop…

  • …Outline problem clearly and Hypothesis development → remote:
  • …Experimental design (methodology) → remote:
  • …Application of theory (observing) → remote:
  • …Data collection → remote:
  • …Data analysis → remote:
  • …Uncertainties of measurements and conclusions → remote:
  • …Laboratory skills (glassware, synthesis, instrumentation) → remote:
  • …Laboratory Safety skills → remote:
  • …Team skills → remote:
  • …Reading disciplinary literature, record-keeping → remote: 
  • …Writing/communicating results and ethics→ remote:

Thank you to Dr. Alexandra Bartole-Scott for her help in developing this list.

Template for lab and course alignment Download: Planning for Modules with Labs

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