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Reimagine Labs and Experiential Learning

Recently the Teaching Innovation Center (TIC) hosted a Coffee and Conversation event that focused on discussing the question, how can we reimagine labs and experiential learning opportunities? We further examined this question by talking about how lab skills prepare students for future careers, considering both the lab technology and the collaborative nature of the lab environment. 

Joining us as a guest speaker was Ara Austin, PhD. Dr. Austin is currently the Director of Online Engagement & Strategic Initiatives at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

Researcher places vials in ice.

Experiential Learning

So, how do we define experiential learning? During our conversation, we discussed how experiential learning is about the application of learning rather than just sharing information about a topic. It is the "learning by doing" concept. Most often in biology education, these unique skills are only given in laboratory settings, with a hands-on approach. We also considered the NACE Competencies, which provide guidance for career readiness and can inform learning objectives for laboratory classes. 

Online Lab Experiences

With the launch of our online biology degree program in 2017, there was a need for online lab experiences. There was concern that some lab skills cannot be done at home. However, not all research needs to be done in person. For example, data analysis can be learned and completed remotely, with synchronous meetings for support. The focus is about meeting the learning objectives, and that can often be met through some virtual experiences. 

What are online labs like currently? Through virtual simulations using Labster, students are able to apply their knowledge, make mistakes, and try again safely and without wasting materials. There are also kits that can be mailed to online students, with all the materials to conduct the lab within their home kitchen. 

However, there is still a need for applied experiences. Online students want and should have the opportunity to do in-person lab work. This leads us to the...

OURS Program

Dr. Austin shared about the recently launched Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program, which provides research experiences for undergraduate students who are enrolled in online degree programs. Online students are invited to the ASU campus for a week-long immersive lab experience. This summer was the first time this was offered for the School of Life Sciences. Dr. Austin hopes to continue this program, through partnerships with other universities, being mindful of the travel needs for online students. We discussed the challenges for the students, such as funding, but there are several scholarships available. 

Immersion/ In-Person Lab Courses

So, what is the latest for in-person lab courses? Recently implemented is the use of LabArchives. This provides students with the opportunity to use a real-world lab notebook, to keep track of the research they are conducting during their lab courses. Not only are they learning course objectives, but they will also leave the course with knowledge of using a tool that scientists use in laboratory environments daily. 

Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs)

For our immersion (in-person) students, the School of Life Sciences has the SOLUR program that provides undergrads with opportunities to be paired with a research scientist on campus. Students benefit from learning the research process while directly contributing to current research. These have been found to have a huge impact on undergraduate students for retention in science, and are more inclusive

BioSci Southwest Symposium

This symposium, hosted by the ASU School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) program, offers undergrads the chance to present their research. The free event takes place on Friday, October 29th from 1pm - 5pm. It will be a hybrid event, with options to join virtually or in person. The event will be using the website, GatherTown, which mimics a conference event. You can walk up to a poster and chat with the presenter. Be sure to register!

Biology instructors, this is a great opportunity to provide extra credit to students who attend and share what they've learned!

Upcoming TIC Events

The next theme of teaching development from TIC is "Scale UP." We are drawing attention to the challenge of scaling up courses for large enrollments. 

Join us for our next event! Visit the TIC Calendar to see the latest events. 

Post author:

Sarah Prosory is an Instructional Designer within the School of Life Sciences, Teaching Innovation Center at Arizona State University. She has worked in higher education since 2006, supporting faculty in law, engineering, and biological sciences. Her experience includes assisting faculty with in-person, blended, and hybrid courses, as well as making the leap to fully online courses. She provides training to faculty and teaching assistants on how to use educational technologies, and shares best practices in course design to improve the student experience.


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