Lab courses can be challenging to move online. By finding the right resources and modifying learning objectives, shifting a lab course to an online environment can be done successfully. The first step is finding alternative resources to substitute for activities normally done in the physical lab.

Alternatives to the Physical Lab

Instructor-created labs

Labs created from scratch by instructors can allow you to more closely control both the content and procedures to match your own specific objectives. Keep in mind that students will likely need to purchase their own materials if they are not already readily available to them, so consider giving as much advance notice as possible go avoid delays or material shortages.

Lab kits

Several companies provide predesigned and assembled kits for labs for purchase through their websites, such as Hands-On Labs and eScience Labs. Others, like Carolina, allow you to assemble a kit for a specific lab you've designed directly through their site. This can provide an easier to access, comprehensive alternative to having students attempt to assemble materials on their own. The downside is cost, as these kits can be pricey.

Virtual labs/simulations

  • PhET (free) - Interactive simulations available through the PhET project at the University of Colorado Boulder.
  • BioInteractive (free) - Searchable library of activities, videos, and interactive media on a number of a subjects from the Lehigh affiliated Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
  • Labster (fee based) - Extensive library of detailed virtual simulations of lab experiments and field work.
  • Custom simulations - For those skilled in the use of modeling software applications such as Solidworks or AutoDesk, custom simulations created with these tools can be recorded with screen/lecture capture software, such as Panopto, and shared with students.

Other Resources

Lehigh faculty shared ideas for alternative activities/instruction

  • Utilize data sets from quality lab reports from previous semesters. Have students create their own reports based on these data sets.
  • Provide students with limited period of time to complete and return work based around data sets (ex: 24 hours to complete calculations; week to complete reports)
  • Have students think about the experimental design process, then walk them through it visually.
  • Creating written sets of step by step instructions/procedures for running experiments (to accompany video content if possible) - dependent on goals.
  • For undergrad students who were previously running experiments who no longer able to access labs
    • Pair up with grad student to help w/ data analysis
    • Require more intensive literature reviews or background research activities
  • Provide Zoom office hours for individual labs.
  • Consider simplifying/scaling back on student deliverables.
  • At home data collection if appropriate.
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