Hands-on learning plays a large role in many laboratory courses across campus. Since Miami University announced it would no longer be holding face-to-face classes, lab students and faculty have been adjusting to losing that experience.
Prior to the switch to online classes, students in labs spent time building models, conducting experiments and collaborating with their classmates.
Physiology Lab Coordinator Robert Bauer is currently overseeing three biology lab classes.
“I think the biggest challenge that we still have is, how do you take something that was inherently supposed to be … a hands-on group activity and make it an online individual activity,” Bauer said.
To combat the lack of in-person learning, Bauer has applied tactics like recorded lectures, worksheets, videos of the experiment and online lab simulations.
“[The lab simulations] are much simpler than what we would've done in class but still allow [students] to explore a concept that we were hoping to explore with them in the lab,” Bauer said.
First-year Grant Loewenstine is a kinesiology and pre-medical studies double major who is currently enrolled in human physiology, which includes a lab. Lowenstine considers himself a hands-on learner and has found the transition to be difficult.
“You can't really do a lab online, obviously, because you just have to be face-to-face, and you have to actually be there to do the lab or else it [is hard to] comprehend,” Loewenstine said. “It just throws a kink in my gear.”
The College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) has also found ways to transfer labs online.
Junior computer science major Walter Tracy is taking three CEC courses that include a lab component.
With most of Tracy’s work being held online, even before classes shifted to a remote delivery platform, not much has changed for him.
“I would say [my labs] feel a little bit more hands-off,” Tracy said. “A lot of the time, I think that some teachers are going back and forth making the instructions better or sort of minimizing how hard we have to think to finish it.”
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Some of Tracy’s instructors are giving students extra time to complete their work, which he has found beneficial.
“I'm pretty thankful for that sometimes,” Tracy said. “[Professors have] just realized that there's no way people are going to grasp it without being able to have a real conversation about it.”
The physics department has been using tools like Canvas discussion boards and emails to provide a conversation platform for students.
Herbert Jaeger, chair of the physics department, said he and the department also found the transition to be a challenge.
“We had to come up very quickly with a way of doing this, which we have not planned,” Jaeger said. “In our department, we don't have a great deal of experience with online classes, period, because we haven't really taught any.”
First-year Diana Chudnovsky is a supply chain management and entrepreneurship double major who is currently enrolled in a physics lab.
In the initial transition period, Chudnovsky was unable to download a lab and reached out to a teaching assistant (TA) for help. Her TA set up a private WebEx call and walked her through the lab on his own computer.
“It was super helpful,” Chudnovsky said. “I've never had another professor or teacher go out of their way like that and so quickly.”
With less than a month until the spring semester comes to a close, many lab students and professors appreciate the leniency and patience they have mutually received due to the difficult transition.
“Some of our students told us that they're thankful for our patience when they don't turn things in on time and get the extension,” Jaeger said. “I'd like to return the favor and say thank you for their patience because we're not always getting things together at the right time.”