Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin

News

  • Written by Brian Abbey, Professor of Physics, La Trobe University

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken university education, with most teaching moved off campus and students learning online at home.

But a cornerstone of undergraduate science education has been a challenge: the laboratory class.

The real joy of science is in discovery and the links between knowledge and understanding crystallise when conducting experiments in the laboratory.

Read more: No big packed lectures allowed if we're to safely bring uni students back to campus

Lab classes solidify both the practical skills needed by future scientists and the intellectual culture of their discipline.

Labs put theory into practice

For many students, it’s only when they put theoretical concepts into physical practice in the lab that they really understand them.

Although restrictions are easing, the need to maintain social distancing in crowded laboratory classes creates a range of challenges for lab education.

How should university educators address this?

Some universities, including La Trobe, University of Technology Sydney, UNSW, Monash and Murdoch, have rolled out pilot projects trying to give students a laboratory experience off-campus.

The idea is attractive, not least because lab classes represent a significant cost to universities. Dedicated lab buildings, casual teaching assistants, technicians and safety compliance are all overheads unique to lab classes even before equipment is purchased and maintained.

So what are the options for students who want to gain a laboratory experience but are challenged with accessing the lab? Broadly speaking there are currently three models being trialled.

The mail order lab

The first and simplest idea is the mail order experiment model. In this approach, laboratory kits would be assembled at the university and sent direct to the students to conduct experiments in their own home.

This has the distinct advantage of providing students with a tactile lab experience with no specific time limits set on how long they get to learn with the equipment.

But sending equipment by post is expensive and who would cover the costs if things go wrong? For example, if equipment gets lost in the mail or accidentally damaged at home.

In addition, there are health and safety issues with trying to perform experiments without a trained demonstrator on hand to oversee the work.

The home lab

A second approach is to design experiments around what can be readily found at home. A huge amount of physics, chemistry and biology can be investigated using regular everyday items.

For example, students can measure the force of gravity with a simple pendulum, or find the latent heat of ice by observing the temperature change when added to a glass of water.

Lab experiments in the pandemic moved online or mailed home to uni students Flickr/Travis Nep Smith, CC BY This has enormous appeal as it not only saves costs but also may improve learning outcomes for the students by making experiments more relatable to the world around us. The downside is that some key experiments might require specialist, expensive apparatus, such as a decent optical microscope, well beyond what could be expected to be performed at home. The online lab The third and perhaps the most ambitious approach is to try to recreate the lab experience entirely online. This would involve a combination of virtual reality and remote control over lab equipment that can be operated from the safety and comfort of a student’s home. This approach enables key concepts to be explored in a practical way that can be live streamed to a student’s monitor or even to a virtual environment. It also maintains a high degree of interactivity since multiple students can be logged onto the same experiment at once. But there are downsides to this approach too, even aside from the fact that the “hands on” element is removed. Such online facilities are expensive to set up and maintain, involving expertise in engineering and computing as well as laboratory teaching. Academics need to carefully design and monitor the experiments. The lab of the future So what does the future hold for the lab class? Some of the experiments performed today have little changed for hundreds of years. For example, every physics student splits light with a prism, and every chemistry student neutralises an acid with a base. It was perhaps only a matter of time until the way in which we educate our students in the laboratory received scrutiny. One thing is certain: given how much financial pressure they are currently under, universities will be looking to cut costs wherever possible. Critical as it is to learning outcomes, the lab class will no doubt be examined closely. Read more: Australian universities could lose $19 billion in the next 3 years. Our economy will suffer with them Universities may be tempted to save money by adopting some of the new and exciting ways of teaching labs beyond the face-to-face model. But a better motivator should be achieving improved learning outcomes for all students. Often changing to online delivery just moves costs from one sort of infrastructure to another rather than allowing simple cuts to jobs and buildings. It’s the duty of academics to clearly articulate why the laboratory experience is central to teaching and learning, and be open to new and unconventional ways of achieving this experience.

Authors: Brian Abbey, Professor of Physics, La Trobe University

Read more https://theconversation.com/lab-experiments-in-the-pandemic-moved-online-or-mailed-home-to-uni-students-138794

If architecture is the canary in the coalmine, the outlook for construction is appalling

arrow_forward

Why heritage protection is about how people use places, not just their architecture and history

arrow_forward

Yes, street art is on public display — but that doesn't mean we should share it without credit

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

FORDHAM: Thank you very much for talking to us. I know it's a difficult day for all of those Qantas workers. Look, they want to know in the short term, are you going to extend JobKeeper?   PRI...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison interview with Neil Mitchell

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, how are you?   MICHELL: I’m okay, a bit to get to I apologise, we haven't spoken for a while and I want to get t...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham

PRIME MINISTER: I've always found that this issue on funerals has been the hardest decision that was taken and the most heartbreaking and of all the letters and, you know, there's been over 100...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Understanding Your NextGen EHR System and Features

NextGen EHR (Electronic Health Records) systems can be rather confusing. However, they can offer the most powerful features and provide some of the most powerful solutions for your business’s EHR ne...

Rebecca Stuart - avatar Rebecca Stuart

SEO In A Time of COVID-19: A Life-Saver

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty for everyone across the world. It has had one of the most devastating impacts on the day-to-day lives of many including business o...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

5 Ways Risk Management Software Can Help Your Business

No business is averse to risks. Nobody can predict the future or even plan what direction a business is going to take with 100% accuracy. For this reason, to avoid issues or minimise risks, some for...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion