To plan for the 2020-21 academic year, a Lab-based Course Task Force was formed from the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to provide guidance for teaching Yale lab courses online. The guidance remains relevant for all periods of remote instruction. Below we highlight a sample of pedagogical strategies developed by the Poorvu Center and the FAS Task force to inspire creative solutions to teaching labs remotely. You may also view the full list of recommendations from the Lab-based Course Task Force.

FAS Task Force Recommendations: Laboratory courses 

  • In general, we encourage the development of remote lab approaches to be guided by student learning goals and informed by local departmental contexts, embracing the scientific spirit of experimentation and iterative improvement. 
  • Consider exploring existing virtual laboratory resources and videos, such as those from the Journal of Virtual Experiments, PhET, LabXChange or iBiology, which may achieve similar learning goals as an in-person lab experience. For the 2020-2021 academic year, the lab simulation platform, Labster, is available to Yale lab instructors in Canvas.  Labster does have some accessibility issues, so instructors are encouraged to review the platform in light of their student population before using in class.
  • Record videos of instructors or teaching fellows performing experiments, interspersed with or accompanied by questions to promote student learning and retention. Such questions may model the scientific process, such as making observations, hypothesis formation or data analysis. 
  • Ask students to engage with a seminal scientific article that describes the experimental approach they would have performed in the lab. You might ask students to identify its advantages or limitations, or consider new applications related to course content.
  • Ask students to write out the process of the lab, as if they were performing each protocol step. For example, students could describe first one obtains X equipment, then measures Y substance, combines Y with Z, expects A to occur, etc. This approach gives students the opportunity to think through an experiment without physically performing the work.
  • Provide sample experimental data that would have been generated during the lab for your students to analyze. You might then ask your students to develop a lab report or paper based on these results similar to if they had obtained the experimental data themselves. Data sources might include experimental data from previous semesters or earlier in the term, if applicable.
  • Give students opportunities to develop communication skills required of successful scientists. For example, students could write a draft manuscript or grant proposal based on lab content. You might also ask students to create a scientific poster alone or collaboratively in groups through tools like Google Slides.
  • For labs conducted in person, appropriate instruction should be provided around lab safety plans and protocols.

Video from Spring 2020:  Lab Continuity Community

In March 2020, the Poorvu Center hosted an academic continuity discussion for Yale lab instructors, featuring Kate Schilling, Associate Research Scientist - Chemical & Environmental Engineering. Click here for more information on the first Labs Continuity Community

Additional Resources

Ryan, Kevin. (2020) Remote labs: Lessons learned [White paper]. Yale University: Research Support, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

This white paper outlines the lessons learned from creating, purchasing, assembling, and shipping remote lab materials to Yale students nationally and abroad. These “lessons learned” suggest methods for Yale lab instructors and administrators to increase efficiency, decrease processing time, and decrease cost.

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