Design Template: Lab

Lab may be conducted in an online environment in the following ways:

Note: Whatever option you choose, all students in the course should complete each weekly lab assignment in the same manner.

With an AI

A small group of remote students guide an AI (who is in the lab) through the steps of the experiment via Zoom or another tool. A camera serves as the students’ eyes, and the graduate student serves as the students’ hands. The AI may offer suggestions, but primarily takes direction from the students. 


Simulated Experiments

Students conduct simulated experiments. Online simulations allow students to interact virtually with the equipment and lab conditions. Many online resources are available, including many that are free.


Data Analysis

Students conduct data analysis, rather than data collection. Provide students with sample data, perhaps in the form in which it would have been collected, and ask students to complete the analysis as if they had collected the data themselves. For cases where observations are part of the process, consider recording yourself or an AI completing the lab and ask students to take the necessary measurements and observations from the video. 


With Kits

Students conduct labs at home, using “kits” that you have prepared and mailed in advance.  (Note:  if students will be conducting labs on their own time each week, the formal lab meeting session should be revised to have a “FLP” meeting pattern.)


Essential Considerations

Identify course goals and objectives. Start by thinking about your essential goals for the course. Focusing on the most important elements of what you want your students to learn and learn how to do will help you make clear decisions about how to adapt to your lab.

Design your curriculum in modules. Rather than a single arc across the semester, segment your course into modules, allowing for change and adaptation at points during the semester. Provide an overview of each module in the same fashion that you introduce the course in order to help students understand the module within the broader course context 

Plan instruction for engagement and interaction. Engagement and interaction with you and with fellow students will foster community and motivation. Include opportunities for peer review of work, small group discussions, group projects, debates, student-developed screencasts, peer teaching (e.g., students assigned to particular readings or topics and then teach each other), etc. 

Allow students to exercise creativity and agency, which will increase motivation and commitment. 

Prepare students for learning online. Despite our frequent assertions that students are “digital natives,” online learning may be entirely new to them. Explain your expectations, and provide guidance on how to meet them (for instance, explain how you expect students to work with a lab partner).

Provide guidance to and meet regularly with your AIs or teaching team. Teaching online is also new to them. 

Anticipate issues of access and inclusion. Consider sending a short questionnaire in advance of the first class that asks students to share concerns they have about engaging the course, including technology and access. See also the guidance provided by the Office of Disabilities Services.

Prepare Students For Learning

Encourage metacognitive thinking and self-assessment. Many of the specific suggestions which follow aim to enhance students’ metacognition, including assessment of their own understanding.

  • Be explicit about your expectations for students’ preparation for each lab
  • Direct students to review relevant sections of your syllabus so that they attend each lab prepared to engage
  • Encourage students, in order to make the most of each lab, to review earlier notes or slides. Consider providing or asking for a brief recap 
  • Provide an overview of the lab at its start; alert students if some content is particularly difficult or frequently misunderstood 
Encourage Engagement And Interactivity

Get to know your students and encourage them to get to know one another; you might:

  • Send an introductory email or a written or video biography to your students 
  • Invite students to attend pre-semester office hours with you or your AIs
  • Use students’ names whenever possible 
  • Conduct poster sessions at appropriate intervals

Create out-of-class opportunities for participation and learning; ideas include:

  • Design a lab that students can conduct off-line (keep in mind that not all students will have equal access to space to do so)
  • Give students opportunities to observe and record off-line phenomena 
  • Encourage students to use free phone apps such as “Oscilloscope” or “Speed Gun” that allow students to interact with instruments

Implement best practices for collaborative team/partner labs and projects; you might:

  • Address teamwork explicitly as a learning objective of the course
  • Include small, low-stakes team-building activities before larger, graded lab reports
  • Recognize that some students may have had negative experiences with teamwork in the past
  • Allow students to reflect upon and report on team performance
  • Include individual and group assessments throughout the course (to promote individual and group accountability as well as fairness)
  • Maintain teams over time to allow them to become cohesive
  • Expect disputes to arise and use them as opportunities to model conflict resolution and real-world job skills
  • Recognize that team roles (e.g., Team Leader/Principal Investigator, Protocol Manager, Data Recorder, Researcher) can be particularly helpful when students aren’t familiar with each other’s strengths, but may merge as students get to know each other
  • Articulate the responsibilities for each team member’s role (or have students develop and agree to them before the lab begins)

Use “classroom assessment techniques”; ideas include:

  • Use polls or quizzes during class to assess comprehension (see more below) 
  • Ask students to submit an unanswered question at the end of each lecture
  • Conduct an informal mid-semester evaluation
Assess Your Students’ Learning

Assign frequent assignments, with opportunities for regular feedback. If appropriate, students might submit parts of a lab report, rather than the entire report, for your feedback.

Address academic integrity explicitly. 

  • Develop assignments that require students to make their thinking visible, which will minimize the risks of academic dishonesty
  • Create an exam in Canvas that generates questions randomly from an item bank you and your AIs have created
  • Release exam questions sequentially, and for short periods of time
Recommended Digital Tools
  • Online simulations and teaching resources
  • Asynchronous discussion
    • Use the Discussion tool or the Discussion Board tool in Canvas
    • Take advantage of Ed Discussion, available in Canvas, for Q&A style discussions that also allows for inline LaTeX and run-able code snippets
  • Digital projects and assignments
    • Invite students to collaborate on data collection and visualization with Siftr
    • Analyze data with online tools such as Tableau and RAWGraphs (graphs and charts), Voyant Tools (text analysis), Palladio (network graphs)
    • Use Codio, an integrated development environment (IDE), to create, assign, test and grade computer programming or data science assignments 
  • File sharing and collaborative writing 
    • Share files in Canvas, or in Google Drive
    • Make use of Google Docs for collaborative writing and peer feedback
  • Live lectures and lecture capture
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