Is it possible to teach students chemistry laboratory skills online? Suzanne set out to design an inquiry-based, online electrochemistry lab which fulfils the same learning objectives to a real face-to-face lab. Qualtrics will be used to host and collect student responses in guided activities online. The activities include videos of actual chemistry experiments, interactive simulations, and macros which enable students to balance equations in real-time. This case explored the development process including the use of existing resources. Though these labs are high resource to build, students can work at their own pace, complete them from off campus, and revisit the materials for study purposes.
As part of the wider efforts to improve L&T resilience in SEAD, Suzanne Boniface (SCPS) and team are developing an online version of a 100-level lab to replicate a face-to-face experience and to explore how much time and resources is used during the process. The motivation is twofold: to have some lab activities be completed online, in the event of a disaster, but also to create more flexible options for learners (e.g., an illness or needing to work from home). 100-level labs have high student numbers and high resource use due to the set-up and facilitation by demonstrators, and marking of weekly labs. If several of the 9 mandatory labs were offered online, then during a disaster the curriculum could be sustained for several weeks or a month while finding alternative facilities to run the face-to-face labs. It is important to note that our intention is not to completely remove physical lab time, as this is crucial to becoming a chemist, but to reduce barriers and provide flexible options so that more students can succeed. The work in this case study is ongoing, but we feel that the lessons learned so far are very valuable for academics and staff that support lab teaching.
To develop an online chemistry lab experience which supports the same intended learning objectives and skills learned in a face-to-face experience.
Case Study Design
We began by developing goals, milestones, and a three-part plan for developing an online chemistry lab. Throughout the process (Parts 1-3), the resilience coordinator recorded how much time and resources were used and thought about how this may be different/similar with other physical science disciplines (e.g., biology, physics, and geology labs).
In part 1, we aimed to develop a deeper understanding of what happens in the face-to-face chemistry lab, identify the core components of the learning experience (i.e., the skills, knowledge and attitudes), and assess whether they were critical to the learning objectives. This was achieved by Jacqueline observing several chemistry labs and debriefing with Suzanne to discuss what she observed.
In part 2, the project team met and discussed the pedagogy and technology options which are needed to build the online lab. Most importantly, we discussed the existing resources available and what elements would need to be customly built, and by whom. We also discussed long term sustainability of the elements, and how much maintenance and support would be needed to sustain the online lab.
(still ongoing) In part 3, we aim to build the lab and its constituent parts, and trial the lab with a group of learners or support staff. The next step would be to use the online version in a summer offering of the course which would potentially have higher interest in taking the lab from off campus, and to gain feedback from learners, instructors and demonstrators.
When examining the lab sessions and discussing the learning objectives in part 1, we determined there were several important parts of the lab experience.
With these aspects in mind, it is possible to replicate an online experience which includes 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6, but doesn’t include peer interaction (though students could go through the online lab together) and the actual physical set-up of the experiments.
Key lab design elements
Ethical approval for this research was granted by the human ethics committee of Victoria University of Wellington (#22950, ‘Perceptions of Academic Resilience: Experiences from the Academic Resilience Steering Group and Resilience Pilot Studies’).
Educational research publications relating to this case study.
Reproduce this in Your Own Teaching
This is a quick-start guide for how to build your own online lab. If you would like additional support, contact one of our learning and teaching team
Develop aims and scope.
Identify and discuss design elements.
Build version 1 of the online lab
Beta-test the lab
Run the online lab with learners
Get feedback and adapt.
Contact one of our learning and teaching team to discuss these ideas further and for support using the technologies.