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NANSLO RWSL Reflections_Lormand

Page history last edited by Catherine Weldon 7 years, 9 months ago


NANSLO Reflections

Kate Lormand


Kate Lormand is an adjunct faculty member at CCCOnline and member of the NANSLO Biology discipline panel. She created two localized versions of NANSLO Remote Lab experiments (CCCS Companion Exercises).  Kate then shared these exercises with her students and fellow faculty members.


The NANSLO leadership team is thankful to Kate for her contributions to this project and her thoughtful reflection on the experience.


The following questions were presented to Kate at the close of her time on the NANSLO project. We hope that educators who are planning to make use of remote labs can learn from Kate's experience.


How Can We Better Prepare Students For RWSL? – One of the most important lessons learned this semester is that students need to be given an understanding of the benefits of using the RWSL. In Physics and Chemistry the students were able to perform new laboratory activities that they previously had not had the ability to do. So for this group of students, the lab activities made available by the RWSL really afforded them the opportunity to do something new and different. In Biology, the students had two laboratory activities that focused on the remote microscope. Since the students purchase a microscope with the required lab kit there was a certain level of “why do we need to do this we already have a microscope?” from the biology students. From an instructors perspective, we were all excited about the greater level of resolution and magnification that the RWSL microscope afforded the students but this comes from our understanding of microscopy which at this level the students do not have. So to combat the student’s attitude it would be helpful to create a video or ppt that explains the just how the lab kit microscope and the RWSL microscope differ and what the student will gain by utilizing the RWSL microscope.


Recommendation: Make Configuration And Exploration Of Lab Equipment Available BEFORE Experiment Is Due – In addition to helping a student understand what they will gain from the RWSL labs, it is also important to make certain that the student is prepared for their RWSL activity. A common assumption is that if you are taking an online class you are already computer savvy. While this is true for many students, there are just as many students for whom online education is a new and scary endeavor. For these students, not only do they have to figure out how to navigate in the class learning platform, but then they also have to download programs and configure their computer system to be able to participate in an RWSL activity. For the Biology students, the first scheduled RWSL lab was the second week of a ten week semester; in hindsight this was too much to ask of even the more experienced students. Many students were overwhelmed by the amount of work to be completed within the first two weeks of the class and the RWSL lab was just one thing too many for a number of the students. To combat this, I would like to see each class instructor sign up for a 2 hour time slot in the first week of class to lead an orientation perhaps on Skype or eluminate. With several instructors (this summer we had 8), we could cover a wide range of times. The students can then sign up for a time that works for them with any instructor; it does not need to be their class instructor for the orientation. This orientation would cover class navigation in the first thirty minutes and then RWSL configuration in the remaining time. During this time the instructors can explain RWSL, help the students run the speed test and configure “mumble”. Once a mumble connection with the lab is established the lab tech can help students with any remaining questions. To accomplish this, I realize that we would need to establish a set of instructions to help the instructors facilitate and find a virtual meeting program that would work for the majority. But the result will be better informed and more successful students.



What are Your Thoughts on NANSLO? – The idea behind NASLO is to make laboratory science an option for all students. To this end, NANSLO provides a framework for the development of an online science laboratory curriculum that will utilize laboratory equipment that has not been available to the online student. In many cases, this type of laboratory equipment is not found in the face-to-face laboratory settings either, so the online student can have an experience beyond what a traditional student might experience. In its infancy NANSLO has established a series of labs for three scientific disciplines chemistry, physics and biology giving online students opportunities to manipulate microscopes from their own computers and run chromatography experiments. In continuing to develop open laboratory activities that utilize the remote lab equipment, NANSLO is enhancing and deepening what can be taught in a nontraditional setting.


Additionally, NANSLO provides an avenue that can help face-to-face and online teacher get on the same page. Ideally these two groups of educators would work together to develop science curriculum that meets the needs of the traditional and the nontraditional student. At this point, the focus of NANSLO has been towards the online student but there are many brick and mortar facilities and programs that would benefit from the opportunity to utilize the RWSL.



What is Your Perspective On Teaching Science Using Remote Lab Equipmen t? - From a more personal perspective, I have been both a face-to-face and online science teacher. There are many differences of opinion about the use of lab kits to give the students a laboratory experience. Many face-to-face teachers feel that the labs that are kit based do not give the student the same experience as a traditional lab setting would and that the equipment in the kits does not give the students the working knowledge they need to come into a lab. In an online setting, the student must be the lab prep technician, the experimenter, data collector, analyzer, and the cleanup crew. Of course, this assumes that everything went according to plan…in the event that there is a spill or something does not work, the student needs to be a problem solver as well. Since the goal of education as a whole is to produce innovative critical thinkers, kit based labs do a good job of allowing students the opportunity to think critically and problem solve in addition to providing a laboratory experience for students.


Now, throw into the mix the use of remote lab equipment and you have the best of both worlds. The student can do the kit based lab work from home and them log on to the RWSL and utilize lab equipment that was previously not available to them. It is difficult to think of a more ideal way to allow students an opportunity to work with high tech equipment as a mechanism to reinforce and explore laboratory concepts. In the current CCC online Biology course, students currently purchase a 600x microscope; while this is a very important tool for them to work with to learn manipulation and general microscopy skills, it does not have the resolution or magnification that the remote lab microscope has. So to back up a kit based lab with an opportunity to see the same slide on a remote microscope can greatly enhance the student experience. Another example would be in chromatography, a student can use chromatography paper to separate pigments then log on to the remote lab and run sample in a spectrophotometer collect absorbance data and analyze it.



What Was it Like Getting To Know The Equipment and Developing a Process Of Writing A Lab Procedure For RWSL? – Being based in Denver, I had the advantage of going to the Denver based remote lab and seeing the microscope in use as others were remotely connected which gave me a better understanding of the equipment and the importance of the lab technicians. The system on my computer I work with however was and is older and so my connection speed was at the low end of the spectrum needed. In spite of this I was able to remotely log in and work with the microscope. As with any new technology there are issues. The most troublesome one encountered this summer was that the system would freeze and had to be rebooted. In addition, communicating with others in the “lab” and the lab techs on Mumble can be difficult but when you look at the overall scope of what we are doing these are not mountains just mole hills.


Writing the lab procedure differed between the disciplines primarily because in the Physics and Chemistry courses they were writing new labs to address the new technology available. In Biology however, we were writing to enhance an activity that the students already were doing: basic microscopy skills. Another issue faced in Biology but not in Chemistry or Physics is the importance of not requiring the students to purchase an expensive lab kit and then not use the items in the kit. In the future, we may be able to handle this second issue by developing a custom lab kit that works with whatever new configuration of RWSL and at-home experiments are finally settled on. Given the current set-up, with the already written labs for the biology students, the RWSL activities were treated as supplemental activities to do after they had completed the microscopy activities associated with the lab kit laboratories. This posed a problem in that the students did not see the value of repeating the activities with a different microscope. So if I had to do it again, I would write a new lab that utilized the remote microscope but with different slides and activities. Another issue in the Biology course is that we currently require 10 labs and to add 2 new labs in a 10 week semester is not realistic. Ultimately we need to develop 10 labs that utilize each of tools (RWSL and lab kits) to their best strengths.



What Other Faculty Should Know About RWSL – The biggest thing others should know is to keep an open mind; this is new and groundbreaking technology that can really enhance a students learning experience, but it is not yet perfect…and as in any science, will never be perfect because this is a fluid and dynamic process. The potential is there and the impact RWSL technology will have on online science education will be tremendous. I really feel that with the oversight of NANSLO and the consortium of colleges there is an opportunity to work together as educators and scientists to develop laboratory activities in biology, chemistry and physics that we can all get behind. Currently there is somewhat of a divide between the face-to-face instructors and the online instructors. To date, there has been little collaboration between the two groups. With the incorporation RWSL into the online learning environment, there can be a joining of forces to make sure that there are common standards that can be met using a variety of teaching methods.



My Experience Teaching Science Online In General – I have been teaching online for about 10 years and currently teach at several different institutions across the nation. When I first began teaching online, I was rather skeptical of the process but after a few semesters I really began to see how dedicated the students are to their education and how hard they are willing to work. It is a very different way to approach learning -- putting the responsibility primarily on the student. As an instructor, you are more of a guide and coach to help them through the material. I would have to say that for students, taking classes online is more difficult than taking them in a face-to-face setting but the majority of the students are motivated and recognize that this format affords them an opportunity that they may not otherwise have, which in turn makes them hard workers and good students. One of the things I enjoy most about online education is the discussion boards. If these are used correctly, they can expose students to recent scientific discoveries, apply what they are learning in the class content to real world situations, explore areas of specific interest, utilize critical thinking and become lifelong learners.



What Are Some Factors That Influence Student Engagement? – There are many lists of best practices in online education but the one that seems most important to me is the willingness of the instructor to be “present”. In my classes, I check in daily. What this means for the students is that there is a fast turnaround time for their questions. If a student has to wait for several days for an answer to a question, their frustration level goes up and they may not be able to complete an activity on time or they may not be able to complete a lab. The online science classes I teach are not asynchronous so students must follow a semester schedule and missing an assignment because the instructor did not get back to them in time can be very detrimental to the student’s success rate and opinion of the online process. Other ways to engage students is to establish a report between the instructor and the student and between the students, make them feel like they are in a classroom, like they are all in this together. Students will self filter and those that want to connect will and those that want less interaction with others will not. I set up a student study hall discussion board that is really their space to talk to one another. In this format, I encourage them to set up study groups either in person or virtually using resources such as Skype.



What Was the Student's Experience Of Learning Science Online? – The key here is to recognize that online learning is not for everyone. Some students love it with the flexibility it offers and others need the more formal approach to education. In my opinion, the student experience in online science education really runs the gamut from very positive to extremely frustrated. The ease of navigation in the learning platform, clarity of the syllabus, availability of instructor and schedules all are critical to having a successful online experience.



What are Some Student Success Factors to Keep in Mind? – As mentioned before there are many ways to make an online course “user friendly” and therefore create a learning environment for student success. The following is a good list:

  • Instructor presence in the class – be willing to respond to student emails promptly and in a positive manner. Ask follow up questions in the discussion area that push students to dig deeper and apply the textbook content to the topic. Be professional and friendly in your responses, sarcasm is often lost in an online class so it is best to avoid it.

  • Make sure the syllabus is clear and it is very obvious to the student what the assignment is, how to do it and when it is due.

  • Give students a heads up reminder about big projects coming due; even though it is announced in the syllabus and in the announcements reminder emails can really come to a busy student’s aid.

  • Computers really can fail and eat exams….be understanding and work with the student if there is a personal or technology crisis.

  • A lot of online students are non-traditional…in my classes I have had soldiers serving in Iraq (one of whom got up at 2am to call me with a problem), women undergoing chemo for breast cancer and mom’s testing the waters for going back to college. So remember that non-traditional students may have concerns and problems that are not encountered by face-to-face instructors, and be willing to work with them for success.

  • Set the stage for collaboration between students, just because they are not in the same physical space does not mean they have to work alone.



What do You See as a Future of Remote Labs For Teaching Science Online? – There is a great potential with RWSL to bring the laboratory component of online science classes in line with the student experience of a face-to-face laboratory. Currently, the kit based labs have been viewed with skepticism by faculty in a traditional lecture lab setting. The basis for this skepticism is the lack of or perception of inferior equipment or simply the unfamiliarity of what is in the lab kits and the quality of the labs. The potential of access to a remote laboratory can address the question of lack of equipment and the quality of the equipment. There is still much work that needs to be done in terms of writing and testing new labs that make the best use of the remote equipment while still allowing the student to have a hands-on experience with the lab kits. From a biological stand point, classes that require microscopy with high magnification and good resolution such as anatomy and physiology will benefit the most. Students will still need to utilize a traditional microscope but when they are studying the details of a tissue slide the RWSL microscope will allow them to see greater detail with clarity and take screen shots from which they can study. The most important factor here is to come together as educators both face-to-face and online and create laboratory experiences that engage the student and reinforce the scientific concepts of the discipline.



How Was It To Collaborate With Faculty From Other Institutions In U.S. and Canada? – The group of biology faculty that are involved in the collaboration have been open minded about the use of the RWSL to enhance online science education. We faced a problem in that the lab procedures from BC had not ever been used in an online class and were cobbled together from labs that were done in actual laboratory settings. We all were trying to work within these documents but felt they lacked the content that we would require in our classes. Once this was resolved we were able to come up with a series of labs that were acceptable to all collaborating institutions and from that list chose 2 that could be reworked to use with the RWSL. The other issue is that I am the only faculty member of the group who teaches or has ever taught biology for the college major online. So while others were supportive, they had no knowledge of the lab kits or the format for the online science class.



What do You Think About Collaboration Across Institutions Toward Increased Standards? – I think this is a very important aspect of what we are doing. If the members of consortium can come to an agreement of what the content in the online labs is and how best to give the student the research and technical skills needed to demonstrate their knowledge of the content then I believe there will be less hesitation about the quality of labs experiences in online science courses. Part of this process would involve the writing and incorporation of experiments that utilize remote labs. To do this we need to have instructors who are willing to think outside of the box to come up with ways to approach laboratory concepts.



How could others who are adopting similar projects improve on the panel structure we used, and how could Advisory Board members at your institution be more helpful to you in your participation? From a personal stand point I felt like clearer definition of what was expected from the panel would have been helpful. The work load fell to a few, myself in particular, because I am the only online instructor. A requirement for us to continue collaborating after the conference may have spurred others to continue to collaborate. The advisory board at CCC online at any rate were great, Dan was a tremendous resource to me and I would suggest that others looking at adopting similar projects look at his approach as a model. Catherine Weldon functioned as a great coordinator and sounding board for the project.



What have you read that interests you about and how do you see integrating the research into your ongoing NANSLO efforts? – The approach to laboratory science is changing. The change is taking place in Engineering disciplines at a whole host of institutions as an example MIT’s open courseware and iLabs. In the life sciences, the move towards remote lab experiments is slower; perhaps because of the use of dissection and live specimens. The following link is to an interesting article on using virtual and robotics in biology courses:



http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/new-project-promotes-virtual-science-labs-despite-skepticism/9162 .


Be sure to read the comments that follow the article. Another good summary of how educators approach laboratory experiences is Hands-On, Simulated, and Remote Laboratories: A Comparative Literature Review by Jing Ma and Jeffrey V. Nickerson.


It seems there is still some confusion over “virtual” versus robotic laboratory activities but regardless, the importance of some level of hands on experiences is emphasized. As I read these articles it occurs to me that there is still a great divide in how we think about the laboratory experience. Most instructors agree that it is not enough to show students an experiment (virtual) but that there is a need for them to actively participate in the process. Is it realistic to limit education to the students that follow a traditional path? In this day of increasing technology this seems short sighted. Using a combination of remote laboratories and kit based laboratories opens the doors of education to the less conventional student and who knows these maybe the students who will change the world.


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