Hands-on lab alternatives

Many instructors feel strongly that in-person lab instruction cannot be replaced effectively in an online learning environment. However, sometimes extenuating circumstances require unique accommodations. Converting a lab class to an online course requires careful consideration because there are many skills and content that get covered in a traditional laboratory setting. Many non-traditional lab options are now available; examples are here and here. A recent article in Nature suggests that there are some unique opportunities in the online lab learning environment.

When moving laboratory classes to an online environment, instructors must ask themselves:

  • What are the skills we want students to get from participating in the labs?

  • What is the content knowledge students should gain from these labs?

Standard lecture material, research articles, and videos can be moved to the online environment quickly. Refer to CTL’s keep teaching guide on the best strategies for moving this content online. The question becomes: how do we teach physical skills, experimental design, and other lab-specific lessons using an online environment? While we may not be able to teach all skills in an online environment, below is a curated list of resources to help in moving some lab activities online. Some of the links include complete labs, and some are simulations that mimic lab experiments. When using online lab activities, follow them up with more traditional laboratory reports or hypothesis-driven experiments.

Because many labs require specific equipment, they can be difficult to reproduce online. Suggestions, provided by the University of Maryland, include:

  • Moving aspects of lab activities online, particularly those that require students to familiarize themselves with procedures or data analysis or manipulation.

  • Providing video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, and other pre- or post-lab work to prepare students to hit the ground running when the campus reopens.

  • Examination and exploration requiring utilization of critical thinking skills that relate to course objectives.

  • An analysis is shared with the instructor and/or class with posts in a discussion forum or class blog.

Biology Labs

Biology and Earth Science Labs

Chemistry Labs