Remote Labs

Replicating an in-person lab is a challenge; however, instructors can still address some components of the learning experience with remote labs. The first step is to plan on what you want your students to take away from the lab experience and then determine whether alternatives allow you to accomplish some of the course outcomes. 

Note: Some of the tools and sites discussed below require technological requirements with regard to hardware and software, so please consider those parameters when integrating them into remote labs since access to computing resources varies among students.  

What is it?

Consider determining what skills can be replicated remotely or in a virtual setting. This means focusing on course learning outcomes. Viewing demonstrations, analyzing data data analysis, interacting with online simulations are ways to allow students an opportunity to identify, analyze, predict, synthesize and evaluate processes, practices, protocols, and procedures presented in a virtual setting. 

Why is it important?

The lab experience is central to the learning process, so it is important to acknowledge all things are not possible. That said, important skills can still be cultivated through simulations and interactions with course materials. 

How to do it? 

Determining whether existing content is available can be a time-saving step in the process. Reviewing curated content and resources from open access sites (like Merlot ), disciplinary-based associations (like videos for the American Society of Microbiology), and other educational outlets (like TED Talks) can give you some “first steps” so student can see the concepts, theories, and techniques at work. 

For example, a list of resources for remote and virtual compiled by Sarah Miller and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin - Madison: https://go.wisc.edu/qe5942. Though mostly focused on Earth Science, it does link to other resource repositories across Centers for Teaching and Learning and Science Education sites. 

Course textbooks often have accompanying materials to help offset the need to create additional content, though it may come at an increased cost to students. Reaching out to the publisher to see if a waiver (or reduced price) for remote instruction during times of uncertainty is an option. 

Examples

Case Studies provide a chance for students to look at problems in context, like labs. Based at the University of Buffalo, the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science has a number of case-based scenarios that can be adapted for students to respond to: https://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/. The site covers a host of disciplines that range from Agriculture to Cell Biology to Economics to Sociology. 

Consider alternative approaches to data analysis. For example the Carolina Digital Innovation Lab has a list of different tools that allow students to examine different sources of data: https://cdh.unc.edu/resources/tools/

Use raw data: If data cannot be collected by students directly, demonstrate how the data is typically collected. After doing so, allow them to work with raw data so they can practice analyzing it. This approach gives them a part of the applied lab experience that you can use to connect to course concepts.

Further Reading and Tools