Studying a hard science in college is difficult enough on its own, but now that many classes are offered in a virtual format, the laboratory component of these courses presents a unique set of issues.
Professors in these types of fields — namely biology, chemistry and physics — had to get creative with how they present a course’s content for remote learning.
McKenna Beitzel, a freshman studying chemistry–pre-dentistry, said that despite the difficulties of learning online, the accommodations made by some of her professors in their coverage of lab content is really helpful.
“I think that (my professors) actually are doing a really good job making it online friendly,” Beitzel said. “It’s harder to learn online, obviously, not having that face-to-face instruction, so I do think … professors are doing really good at accommodating for online.”
The actual process by which Beitzel and her classmates learn is indicative of the monumental role that technology plays in the education of today’s students.
One of her professors records videos of the labs and posts them to YouTube, Beitzel said. Then, she has to fill in an Excel sheet with data to answer post-lab questions.
Maddie Bowman, a junior studying biological sciences pre-physician’s assistant, has labs both in-person and online. Her online experience is similar to Beitzel’s.
But for her in-person labs, Bowman said that there are plenty of precautions taken, both with regards to physical distancing and individual use of one’s own lab materials.
She also said that she engages in group projects online with her classmates and that there are lab manuals that she has to fill out on the computer.
Carl Brune, a physics and astronomy professor, said there are some hidden challenges to teaching at this time.
“One of the things that has been a little bit challenging for me is, ‘how do you replace the chalkboard and demonstrate problem-solving?,’” Brune said. “It’s a learning process to figure out what's going to work best for what you're trying to do (with online classes).”
Despite the struggles of teaching in an online format, Dr. Brune did mention his and his colleague’s continued efforts to work through the novelty of online instruction.
Julie Roche, a physics professor, shed some light on the necessity of having students in person this semester, for the sake of her labs.
“If all of my students decided to be online … I’m not sure the class would have been offered,” Roche said. “I’m trying to be as flexible as I can to try to make it work for everyone.”
Roche also congratulated her students and others for their willingness to roll with the punches during this fall semester of extreme uncertainty.
“I think that they are really motivated to learn and be willing to shift...I think it’s very impressive,” Roche said. “It has to be complicated … but they are doing it. It’s really impressive.”