Taking hands-on learning online: Biology lab

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced Austin Community College (ACC) faculty to adapt their classrooms, labs, and simulations to a virtual environment. We are sharing the innovative ways our faculty are taking hands-on learning online.

In this month's Fac/Staff Digest, we explore how Curtis Eckerman, ACC Biotechnology department chair and Biology professor, recreated the biology lab online.

"Normally what we would do in a lab is have the materials set out on benches and have the students work together on a worksheet or lab report," says Biology Professor Curtis Eckerman. "Not only did we lose the group aspect, but we also lost the hands-on aspect of the lab."

Eckerman tried to replicate the classroom experience online by setting up his virtual biology labs as stations. He used a combination of videos, images, explanations, and worksheets.

"This creates a work-at-your-own-pace feel, but their worksheets are always due at the end of the week so that they can start on the next set of labs the following week. I also make myself available in Collaborate during the normal class times to help answer any questions or work with a student who might be having problems with the lab or figuring something out."

Eckerman also provided students outside resources to help them engage with the material more than reading their lab manual and looking at a few images.

"I will be using the materials I created in the future because I decided to recreate the entire lab experience so that it was a better guide for the material," says Eckerman. "I will be using this same guide when we have face-to-face classes again, and I believe the students will feel better prepared and have a better idea of what is expected of them in the lab going forward."

Most courses will remain online through the summer semester. A small selection of courses that require a significant hands-on component that cannot be converted to online will begin July 6. For more information about the college's response to COVID-19, visit austincc.edu/coronavirus.