Educators in science and engineering have traditionally relied on in-person experiments for teaching. Laboratory experiments introduce students to the real-life work of scientists and engineers, teach them concepts through trial and error, and show them how the theories they learn in class translate into real-world phenomena: chemical reactions, biological processes, physical actions, and reactions. Understandably, this reliance on hands-on practice raises particular challenges in the new world of expanded online learning.
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, universities are adopting fully remote or hybrid online/in-person course structures this academic year. These drastic changes follow from campus closures that started in the spring, and it is still unclear how long they will last, or whether in-person classes will return to the same extent as before. Thus, science educators should look for tools to support students’ learning in these new environments, which may well extend beyond one semester.
Software tools are not new additions to science courses. Even prior to the pandemic, many educators relied upon technology to enrich their classes. For example, undergraduate chemistry labs often included computational-chemistry components, in which students experimented with electronic structure calculations to better understand molecular conformation. Instructors also supplemented lectures and tutorials with interactive materials from online-learning platforms, like Top Hat or Pearson’s Mastering platform.