Teaching lab at the start of the pandemic was a challenge, to say the least. The shutting down of schools, the lack of student engagement due to the more pressing issues of health and safety, it all shook the foundations of reality as we knew it. So what does teaching look like in a post-pandemic world? More specifically, how does this apply to labs? We asked instructors at our 2021 Virtual Lab Summit for their thoughts, let’s take a look at a few different disciplines and the knowledge they have gained through experience.
Instructors found that when comparing in-person classes to those that were fully online, grades were comparable and there wasn’t too much of a difference between the sections! There are several practices that are going to be continued moving forward, especially since online lab sessions are actually growing and demand for them has increased in many courses. They will continue to host online pre-labs, which have been found to be really helpful and are a good use of time and resources to give students more in-lab time. Additionally, they are going to use online course management more, which allows for more transparency for students and in what TAs are doing. Lastly, they discovered how important it is to use group chat tools to keep students engaged and connected.
Biology labs learned pretty quickly that lab sessions should be synchronous and not asynchronous. They found that it keeps students on task and paying attention better. A tool that helped them with this goal was utilizing jamboard and breakout rooms to have higher participation. Because students didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of open lab time, online resources really helped to supplement their learning. Online resources proved to be a good alternative for make-up labs as well. New hires and TAs found that it helped them to set expectations for the lab, where they flipped lecture sessions and included things like clicker questions. Now that they are back in person, they really appreciate the online resources that they can use outside of class.
Microbiology labs found that there has been a serious disconnect since the pandemic with students that makes it more difficult to discern when they are struggling. This has continued on into in-person studies. Through utilizing studies done at Boston University, they learned how office hours attendance had gone down pre-pandemic, but the pandemic caused a surge in attendance, most likely due to the fact that virtual office hours appear less intimidating for students. Moving forward, it was realized that digital tools can give instructors more insights into how students are doing regardless of if that learning is remote or in-person. Temperature checks were also discovered to be an important part of teaching and learning that gives insights to the instructor on things that need addressing or improvement.
Instructors realized early on that some of the things they usually incorporated into their class, like forgiveness policies, were difficult during pandemic teaching. The LMS gradebook didn’t always cooperate even though they wanted to give students an incentive or reward. One thing they learned from the experience was to use fewer labs and be very intentional about the labs that were being chosen to make sure students get the skills they need. Additionally, instructors started using videos and simulations in the pandemic that they will continue to use moving forward, as it really helps with student preparedness and increases understanding in the lab. Some resources they found extremely helpful in connecting best with students were jamboard, slack, and piazza.
Ultimately, it will take some time to process everything we have done during remote/pandemic/hybrid teaching. Instructors have learned to be more understanding and give more flexibility and grace to the students. Fostering community in the classroom through case studies and discussion allows students to feel more comfortable and able to identify themselves as scientists. And now the real innovations from these lessons we have learned will begin.