Jan. 11, 2021Print | PDF
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Science lab coordinators have been working hard to support undergraduate students adapting to a new learning environment. While this year’s lab coursework may look different than in past years, the lab coordinators’ focus on ensuring safety while allowing students to develop hands-on scientific skills has remained the same.
The majority of classes in the fall 2020 term were offered remotely and the winter 2021 term will follow the same model. While most courses were offered virtually, some Faculty of Science programs did offer in-person instruction during the fall, with a focus on elements critical to the scientific learning process.
To ensure students have the opportunity to develop those skills and practice them safely, several core courses have been designated to include in-person instruction, including Fundamentals of Chemistry I (CH110), Organic Chemistry I: Fundamentals (CH202), Physical Chemistry 2A (CH213), Introductory Biochemistry (CH250), and Analytical Chemistry I (CH261).
“We were all in agreement that students need hands-on experience,” says Associate Professor Stephen MacNeil, chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Laurier. “We cannot meet the learning objectives of these teaching labs if students aren’t manipulating things in the lab.”
To provide students with hands-on experiences, chemistry lab coordinators quickly adapted, finding new ways to accommodate students and creating schedules that offered the options of virtual or in-person instruction. During in-person instruction, protecting against COVID-19 is a priority. Students are required to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing at all times, in addition to standard lab safety protocols.
“It was a big change for students,” says Sherilyn Van De Wynckel, lab coordinator in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Our lab capacity changed from 48 students who worked in partners to 21 students who now work individually.”
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has also created a chemistry lab skills tutorial for first-year students who may be unfamiliar with working in a lab and to prepare for individual experiments.
“This is a session I designed to get first-year students working with equipment and techniques that they are not familiar with due to their Grade 12 second semester being cut short due to COVID-19,” says Van De Wynckel.
Instructors in Kinesiology and Physical Education, Health Sciences, and Criminology are using innovative online tools to teach lessons that would have traditionally taken place in a lab. One of those tools is Primal Pictures, intuitive 3D anatomy software that allows students to engage with 3D models by rotating, adding, or removing anatomical features.
Lab Coordinator and Course Instructor Terry Sturtevant created new opportunities for lab learning at home with the introduction of online simulation tools as well as at-home lab kits for students in the Department of Physics and Computer Science.
Laurier’s Science Maker Lab has adapted to a virtual environment, providing services and mentorship opportunities to students. Before the pandemic struck last winter, the lab provided in-person training and equipment for students to explore ideas, design and create.
Although students are currently not able to visit the Science Maker Lab, they are still able to produce parts and prototypes on laser cutter and 3D printers. Students e-mail files and final products are delivered through a contactless drop-off or pick-up.
“We teach design skills from the perspective that they are communications and problem-solving skills,” says Ron Daniels, coordinator of Science Entrepreneurship at Laurier. “All of these are skills that an early-stage entrepreneur will need.”
With the onset of the pandemic, Daniels and staff began offering training programs for beginners through Zoom and SOLIDWORKS, a modeling computer-aided design and engineering computer program, that offers introductory and advanced lessons. He also created a video series called “Inside the Black Box” that covers technology-related topics.
“We take great efforts to produce studio-quality videos,” says Daniels. “Recognizing that watching videos is not as entertaining as in-person instruction.”
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