A new article on science courses at distance-taught colleges points to teaching methods that improve student communication and collaboration, providing a framework for enriching online education as the coronavirus pandemic continues to limit in person.
“These varied exercises allow students to engage, team up, go out, do important lab work, and conduct group investigations and presentations under extremely difficult circumstances – and from around the world,” explains Erin Morrison, professor of liberal studies. at New York University and the lead author of the article, which appears in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. “The active learning toolkit can be used effectively remotely to ensure quality science education, even under sudden conditions during a public health crisis.”
The rapid shift from largely in-person teaching and learning to fully distance learning brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for teachers and professors in all subject areas – but especially in science, which often requires in-person lab work.
Additionally, the shift from face-to-face to distance education in spring 2020 meant educators had to quickly adjust their methods to accommodate an online environment – a circumstance Morrison, with co-authors Genia Naro -Maciel and Kevin Bonney, facing their classes starting in the middle of the semester last spring.
The trio implemented several methods after their classes drifted apart in March 2020, allowing for a comparison between in-person and online teaching and learning within the same classes. Among these were the following, which were the subject of the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education article: a practical experimental activity on biodiversity, an interactive laboratory of human genetics and a research project in environmental sciences.
This hands-on experiential activity, titled “Backyard Biodiversity,” required students to walk around their neighborhood and identify unique plant species. The exercise can be conducted locally anytime and anywhere using the free SEEK Organism Identification app or an alternative. Paired students from different locations around the world then analyzed the data and prepared online presentations, fully engaging in the scientific process while stepping away from their computers and into nature.
Interactive laboratory of human genetics
In the interactive lab, online students learned about Mendelian heritage by interacting with each other remotely and focusing on human traits. Classroom data gathered through these observations was then analyzed and used to discuss related scientific concepts and misconceptions. This online activity was successful in involving students and promoting learning gains by preserving the focus on human traits and the ability to observe the faces of classmates, while facilitating interactions between students and students during collecting, analyzing and discussing the data generated by the class.
Environmental science research project
The pandemic has also provided the opportunity to upgrade an in-person conservation biology research project to an online exploration of environmental health, through the prism of the pandemic experienced in real time. Students worked digitally in teams to explore, analyze, and present underlined, yet significant, interactions between human health and environmental health. The often overlooked relationships between the spread of diseases like COVID-19 and the wildlife trade or deforestation have been highlighted to highlight the links between human and non-human systems. Students also explored and learned how to debunk myths and misconceptions, developing key critical thinking skills amid rampant and growing misinformation and misinformation.
“The work shows how faculty can take advantage of the flexibility of the online environment and use existing remote tools to expand active learning opportunities and create meaningful connections in the classroom, even remotely and during a global pandemic. Morrison says. “Although students are physically distant from each other all over the planet, rapid and effective communication has been preserved, and students have been able to access alternative and freely available materials to engage and carry out hands-on activities. field, research and laboratory.
For example, as part of the biodiversity activity conducted last spring, 60 undergraduates with no previous botany experience came out and identified over 1,200 plant species around the world during the exercise.
Additionally, faculty note, students were consistently more interested and engaged in the Mendel exercise than in almost any other, and performed better than in previous face-to-face classes on exam questions related to these topics. . Likewise, pivoting the research exercise to real-time pandemic-focused group work greatly boosted engagement and interest.
“We observed a level of classroom engagement and content mastery among students completing these activities that exceeded the levels seen in the corresponding in-person learning activities that took place in previous semesters,” says Bonney. .
“Keeping students engaged and learning was often difficult during the sudden and unexpected transition from in-person to distance education resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” adds Naro-Maciel. “In response, we managed to adapt three activities to the remote environment, to achieve experiential distance learning, to design a remote interactive virtual lab, and to actively involve students in remote research.
Following anecdotal observations of success in promoting the learning of key concepts and engagement in the classroom, the team plans to formally study the effectiveness of these techniques in the future, which may lead to the adoption of educational changes that last beyond the return to face-to-face teaching.