Remote Delivery of Lab Courses

Delivering Lab Courses Remotely

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 specialized hardware and software, so please consider those parameters when integrating them into remote labs since access to computing resources varies among students.  

Using Existing Content

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 labs was compiled by Sarah Miller and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. 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. 

Potential Teaching Strategies

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. 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 tools that allow students to examine different sources of data.

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.

    Solutions for Filming or Streaming Experiments

    Self-Service Recording/Streaming Options: 

    These are methods you can do on your own. Contact trainers@ucdavis.edu if you need technology assistance with any of them:

    Recording Assistance from Academic Technology Services (ATS)

    The ATS video group can bring a camera to your lab to make basic recordings of lab sessions for remote viewing at a later date through Canvas. To request assistance recording your lab presentations, contact ats@ucdavis.edu.

    Twenty hours of ATS staff time per faculty member, per quarter, is available on a first-come, first-served basis at no cost to departments.

    To allow for planning and preparation, please contact us at least three business days before your desired recording time.

    Other considerations for these basic lab recordings:

    • Recordings will be shot with a single camera from a fixed position. This means you should have everything in place ahead of time, in a single table-top area in the lab. The videographer will be able to zoom and pan the camera to follow the action.

    • Presentations should be delivered as if live in front of an audience. (There will be minimal editing; minor mistakes that are corrected on the fly tend to keep things interesting and add a touch of humanity.)

    • Anything that requires a significant passage of time should be prepared ahead of time (similar to a cooking show), to avoid long stretches of video with no action. 

    • We do not recommend live (synchronous) streams of lab recordings. Students with low-bandwidth connectivity, or in different time zones, cannot fully participate in live streams. (If you require a live presentation, please see the “self-service options” above.)

    Further Reading and Tools