Remote Teaching in STEM

Remote Teaching in STEM: A Guide for Instructors

Getting started

Re-visit your learning objectives for your class and consider what you and your students have already done. It’s likely that students will have already experienced or seen many of the relevant lab techniques for your class, so you will be able to build on these experiences to adjust your classes and assessment tasks. Consider, too, whether your overall learning objectives for the class may need to be adjusted given the change in teaching environment.

Work with colleagues and your Teaching Fellows (TFs) to discuss how to adjust your classes and assignments – your collective knowledge will offer many creative possibilities!

Planning your labs

Pre-lab instruction (describing the techniques and fundamental facts regarding the science behind the experiments) can be performed via Zoom in much the same way as face-to-face instruction.  Students can read about the methodology they have been using and ask questions via on-line technology.

For introductory labs, instructors or TFs can record short lab demos demonstrating skills/techniques or simply demonstrate the techniques during live streaming of the lab at its normal time. As an alternative, there are many online YouTube videos for lab techniques that can be used by simply sending the students the appropriate links. Additional resources can be found at the end of this guide.

For advanced labs, students will have already learned or performed many of the required techniques, so focus instead on how to analyze and interpret the resulting data.  Here are some examples of alternative assignments:

  • Create a dry lab experiment: lab instructors can post relevant data for students to analyze and interpret. This may be from previous years or from other sources, but work to provide students with data in a form that is appropriate for the discipline and experiment and accessible to all students. The lab TF can answer questions students may have regarding the analysis during the regular lab period via Zoom.  Students can then write up their reports and analyses and electronically send them in for evaluation and grading.
  • Some activities may be replaced with virtual simulations. See the “Supporting Resources” at the end of the guide for suggestions on sites that offer simulations.
  • Capstone projects: Consider asking students to undertake a critical literature analysis of the topic. Additional suggestions for project-based lab research can be found in this guide.

Reproducing classroom board work in online environment

If you typically use a chalkboard or whiteboard to demonstrate concepts to students, you can learn how to reproduce that technique in the online environment in this resource from the Derek Bok School of Teaching and Learning at Harvard University.

Supporting resources

General resource: This document provides a list of online resources for simulations and virtual labs for many fields, including biology, chemistry, geology, math, physics, and others. The list is organized by discipline and provides a brief description and a link to the online resource. Feel free to add your recommendations to the document!

These resources may also help you identify alternative ways of providing the lab experience to your students:

ChemCollective

Subjects: Chemistry (primarily general chemistry, including: stoichiometry, thermochemistry, kinetics, equilibrium, acid/base, solubility, and solutions).

This site contains many resources, including an interactive virtual lab series.  The virtual lab series provides students opportunities to solve problems using the materials they would have available in a typical wet-lab session (e.g. choice of glassware and equipment).  Therefore, this site might be most beneficial for students that have not yet completed these tasks in lab.

Autograded problems are available in association with each lab exercise. These problems are randomly generated and can be printed for the instructor.

Importantly, the lab series, unlike many available online, runs directly in the browser and should not require additional software downloads for students.

Journal of Visualized Experiments

Subjects: Boston University has access to biology, bioengineering, and medicine experiments through the library system.

This site has an extensive number of videos, which could serve as a good visual background, to describe important scientific concepts.  In regards to laboratory options, the JOVE video journal, is a catalog of countless live tapings of different experiments.  Although the main objective of the video collection is to help people working in the research laboratory, this could serve as a resource to bring alive research processes in more advanced science courses. In addition, there is an introductory biology laboratory manual.  Although it is meant to be used in conjunction with in-person wet-lab experiences, given the current extreme conditions instructors are experiencing, it could be used to simulate the experiment and then be followed-up with data analysis.

PhET Interactive Simulations

Subjects: Primarily physics and chemistry, some biology and math.

This site provides interactive simulations that can provide students an opportunity to apply basic concepts traditionally covered in a textbook or via problem sets. The majority of simulations can be played directly from a browser but not all.  Although the simulations do not contain many instructions for students, most students would be able to easily engage with the programs. These simulations would be most effective when accompanied with instructor-provided goals and questions.

MERLOT

Subjects: All

The MERLOT system consists of a curated collection of online resources in a vast array of disciplines, provided by instructors and institutions worldwide. Given the large number of resources, it would be best to start with the search tool and input your topic of interest while filtering the results for the appropriate audience (e.g. college upper division) and material type (e.g. simulation). Given that all of the sources are linked to outside systems, each source has to be individually evaluated for its utility for your students.

LabXchange

Subject Material: Primarily biology but also other areas, including chemistry and physics.

LabXchange is a free online platform that includes high quality digital content to aid your online learning. The interactive laboratory simulations provide students with an opportunity to mimic the wet-lab experience, including the important steps of making predictions and interpreting results.  The system runs directly in a browser.

The site also maintains a host of interactive and engaging videos, curated from various online sources.

Consider accessibility issues

Take into account what technology students will need to undertake the required work and whether their laptops, access to software and WiFi will be sufficient to complete the assessment tasks. Flexibility for additional assignment alternatives may be needed in some cases.

Reflect on your experiments

Instructors and TFs are encouraged to maintain their own learning journals on how these alternative or adjusted classes and assessments tasks are unfolding. This reflection will be useful if the remote-teaching period is extended beyond its current date. It will also be helpful when planning for classes for the next academic year so that, if there are gaps in student knowledge, these can be efficiently addressed.

It would also be great to have a record of these experimental approaches with the possibility for future publications on faculty and student experiences from this remote-learning period.

This guide has been prepared by BU’s Center for Teaching & Learning, an affiliated unit of Digital Learning & Innovation, with the advice of Professor John Caradonna (Provost’s Faculty Fellow for Undergraduate Affairs and Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Material Science Program) and information provided by independent researcher Susan L. Koegel. We have also drawn on ideas contained in the Labs, Studio, or Fieldwork Courses portion of the Instructional Continuity plan compiled by Notre Dame University and the Science Labs portion of Teaching Remotely by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University.

Additional Boston University Resources


If you have feedback or additional questions, please contact Boston University’s Center for Teaching & Learning at ctl@bu.edu.