Texas Tech University

Strategies for Labs and STEM Courses

As we consider modifications to any teaching methodology or course format, it is important that we keep the overall course objectives and purpose of assignments or tasks at the forefront. When thinking about labs, if adherence to your course's planned experiments is preferred, your department's Laboratory Coordinators and/or Teaching Assistants could produce demonstration videos of the experiments in your curriculum. This would ensure that the content you've planned is still covered and students will have the opportunity to see the techniques specific to your course, produced in a familiar environment by familiar instructors. LeighAnn Tomaswick (Kent State University) shared a Google doc with many STEM specific links for online simulations/virtual labs.

Dr. Martin Samuels, Associate Director for Science at Harvard's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, has also provided the following strategies for rethinking science labs.

"Science labs are often either integrated as components of larger lecture courses (lab sections) or comprise the entirety of smaller lab courses. In both scenarios it is worth defining what the labs are meant to achieve before selecting an online alternative. Below are three possible scenarios based on the focus of the labs. Since your labs are likely a combination of these scenarios then you could likewise combine these recommendations keeping in mind the appropriate level of time commitment for the combined activities.

  1. If the focus is on learning techniques and their application to specific experimental situations, consider asking your students to engage in online simulations that may cover at least portions of, if not the entirety of a protocol.
    • Harvard's LabXchange has just released a suite of lab simulations with assessments that focus on basic molecular biology techniques; MERLOT offers a collection of virtual labs in a variety of science disciplines; PHET offers interactive simulations that allow students to vary parameters; and many textbooks also provide interactive lab-based resources.
    • You might consider having your students watch videos of experiments; you can ask your students to first make predictions and then discuss the results. The Journal of Visualized Experiments offers thousands of videos of experiments, including many designed for students.
  2. If the focus is on interpreting experimental data, consider extracting datasets from the published literature that are aligned with the experiments students would have encountered in lab and develop problem sets that focus on the interpretation of the data. One could also combine the experimental protocols with interspersed questions that explore the reasons behind specific steps so that students gain deeper intuition into why certain procedures are performed. In place of actually performing the experiment, students can gain a critique-based understanding of the method followed by data interpretation.
    • One type of question you may want to ask students involves providing them with a random sequence of steps involved in the experimental methodology, and asking them to put them in the correct logical order. This requires students to critically understand why each step has to come before the next in a protocol. You can also provide students with a blank step, which they would need to fill in for themselves once they identify what step is missing. An example of such a question from LabXchange can be found here (click on "Design" on the right-hand side).
  3. If the focus is on project-based lab research, as is often the case in lab courses, your students have already been working on their projects since the start of the term. Furthermore, there is usually a capstone assignment in the form of a final paper, grant application and/or poster that describes their work, both with context and future directions defined. Consider asking your students to switch to the capstone assignment now with an emphasis on interpreting the data they have already gathered or if they have not generated their own data yet, focus on having them predict their experimental outcomes and design the next experimental steps in detail. Divide up the rest of the semester into draft submissions of sections of the capstone that will allow you to provide formative feedback and enable your students to experience experimental design, further hypothesis building, and predictive data analysis. This approach aligns especially well with a written capstone styled like a grant application.

The above recommendations combine what resources are available to support virtual lab exercises with assignments that combine data interpretation with the experience of experimental design, hypothesis building, and self-reflexive critiques of the methods and outcomes that students develop."

Resources from McGraw-Hil

Connect Virtual Labs is a fully online lab solution that can be used as a lab replacement, preparation, supplement or make-up lab to bridge the gap between lab and lecture. These simulations help a student learn the practical and conceptual skills needed, then check for understanding and provide feedback. With post-lab assessment available, instructors can customize each assignment. The full list of labs available (100+ simulations) is attached.

  • If you DO use a current McGraw-Hill textbook edition in Connect for your A&P, Microbiology or Biology (majors or non) course, we have added the new Virtual Labs product under the “Add Assignment” tab
  • If you're not currently using McGraw-Hill or Virtual Labs was not added to your course, we will offer complimentary access to our standalone Connect Virtual Labs product the rest of this semester. Complete this form http://bit.ly/mhepilot to begin complimentary access and we will take it from there reaching out with next steps, a code for students, and training!

Psychology Online Labs

The following information is taken from a post shared by Professor William S. Altman, Ph.D. 2018 Winner of the Wayne Weiten Teaching Excellence Award from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology and Society for the Teaching of Psychology Vice President for Resources.

For psychology instructors who need to have their students engage in labs, the American Psychological Association maintains an Online Psychology Laboratory, in which you can have your students engage in experiments, or have them use available data for anaylsis. You can find it at: https://opl.apa.org/

Also, for more help with psychology-related activities you can use, you may find it useful to look through the materials on the Teaching of Psychology Idea eXchange (ToPIX) at http://topix.teachpsych.org/w/page/19980993/FrontPage. This was developed by APA Division 2, The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP).

STP also has lots of other free resources that may be helpful to you. Just go to http://teachpsych.org/ and click on the Resources tab in the main menu. A few suggestions to look at might include some of the e-books (all free) that deal with teaching (and can be applied to any subject, for the most part), the sub-menu for Resources for Teachers of Psychology, and Project Syllabus, which includes some syllabi for totally online classes that might be good places to find suggested activities.

Anatomy & Physiology Webinars

Open Educational Resources: Simulations and Virtual Labs

Colorado School of Mines offers the following collection of open educational resources. Organized by subject area, this is a great repository of simulations and virtual labs.


Teaching, Learning, & Professional Development Center