Laboratory Courses

Information for Spring 2020

Instructors are encouraged to be flexible and creative when determining how to deliver content and support learning outcomes. Instructors may need to develop alternative assessment tools for these courses or modify their syllabi to accommodate available modes of instruction. Departments and programs should provide guidance to their instructors about general approaches for alternative instruction and should encourage consistency and coordination wherever possible.

Many laboratory courses or lab components of courses require specialized equipment and are difficult to replicate outside of the normal physical space. However, there are activities and approaches that may be used in many cases. Faculty should begin by defining how the labs contribute to learning objectives, i.e. what are they meant to accomplish?

Learning Laboratory Techniques

While virtual settings will never replicate the physicality of students repeatedly selecting and engaging in appropriate laboratory techniques, some familiarity with processes may be introduced remotely. Video demonstrations of techniques or full experiments may be deployed alongside assignments that ask students to first make and justify predictions. Students may be asked to provide justifications for the various techniques and steps in the demonstration.

Interpreting Findings and Data

If one of the primary goals of a lab experience is that students learn how to interpret experimental data and/or research findings, instructors may have students analyze raw data. Faculty may extract relevant data sets from published studies or use other available raw data sets. Student activities could involve interpreting data sets and/or comparing and contrasting varying outcomes.

Project Based Lab Research

Many undergraduates are engaged in project based laboratory research that is intended to culminate in a final project, presentation, or grant application. If possible, students may be encouraged to utilize any existing data generated in the laboratory thus far to draw conclusions and produce their final project. If insufficient data has been generated to draw meaningful conclusions, then the focus of the student's work could shift to experiment design and making predictions about outcomes.

Thanks to the Harvard Bok Center and Stanford Teach Anywhere for articulating many of the recommendations included here. 

See also the Chronicle of Higher Education's Guide: How to Quickly (and Safely) Move A Lab Course Online