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Integrating Chemistry Lab Work and Online Learning

As an organic lab coordinator and instructor, I was particularly concerned about arranging a meaningful lab experience for our students during the pandemic. Chemistry is an experimental science and hands-on lab work is an essential component. For this reason, I, along with the other instructors, strongly felt the need to bring students to the lab, as opposed to going completely virtual.

We reexamined how the lab should be conducted. To keep everyone socially distanced, the class was divided into 2 groups; only half the students came to the lab at any given time.  Like most changes, this also had its pros and cons. During a regular semester, we have two students working per hood. For some experiments, students even work in pairs. When students work together, they help each other learn and grow and this helps foster a strong learning community. With social distancing, we had students work far apart from each other which resulted in less interaction amongst them. On the other hand, because class size was cut in half, it became possible for each student to have a lot more one-on-one help and guidance from the instructor. Also, because students were working individually and apart from each other, it kept them more focused. Over time they became more comfortable with manipulating glassware and other equipment and, as a result, developed greater confidence in their experimental skills.

Nonetheless, it was still a challenging time for students. It can be difficult to remember details of various experiments and maintain the same level of excitement and enthusiasm when there are long gaps between lab work. However, I’m impressed with how well our students performed despite these hurdles. In my opinion, even though students did not get to spend as much time in the lab as during a regular semester, they still learned just as much, albeit it required more work and effort.

In short, a lot of hard work went into solving the logistical issues and doing things in a new and different way. It was indeed a busy and somewhat stressful time for faculty, support staff, and students alike. However, I have nothing but praise for how everyone did their part in turning it into a very productive period.