Redesign Science Labs to Redefine Student Learning

Lab gloves on a tablet that says "The Digital Lab"

SOURCE: Annthea Lewis; Shutterstock

The laboratory is a fundamental part of science courses. As such, it is critically important to properly move it into the digital environment. In the traditional lab, pairs of students work on a physical activity. This activity often emphasizes a topic that is being covered concurrently in the lecture portion of the course. The students record data from the laboratory experiment and then work together to analyze the data that they have collected. Once the analysis is complete, the student often need to write up their experience as a lab report which described what they did, what results they got, what their analysis entailed, and an interpretation of their results in terms of the topic for the laboratory experiment.

Transitioning the traditional laboratory experiment into the digital realm has to involve three components. First, the laboratory experiment itself needs to be converted. Second, there needs to be a method of digital interactivity between lab partners during the experiment as well as during the subsequent data analysis. Finally, there need to be digital collaboration while creating the lab report.

It is important to find a fully online solution for laboratory experiments. Luckily, Late Nite Labs provides just such a solution. Late Nite Labs offers totally online labs which simulate the real-world laboratory environments. Additionally they provide labs for biology, chemistry, and physics. These attributes make it ideal for converting a traditional laboratory setting into a digital setting.

The difficulty lies in the interaction during the experiment. As far as I can tell, Late Nite Labs does not seem to provide for student interaction. It seems that the students work on experiments on their own. This means that another service is needed to be able to include the interaction between lab partners. After having used WebEx a few times, it should be possible for students to use WebEx to collaborate. One student can have Late Nite Labs open and share their screen while they work on the lab. This would allow both students to observe the experiment and record the results and discuss what they are seeing in real time. Additionally, splitting the lab into two halves, one student could lead part one, while the other student leads part two. Ultimately using WebEx in this way would provide nearly the same collaborative lab experience that students get in a traditional lab setting.

Google Docs is a perfect solution for the final part of the collaborative lab experience, writing a laboratory report. Both students could work on the same document after they finish performing the lab experiment. Additionally, they could remain on WebEx after completion of the lab so they can discuss what they are writing as they write it.

The combination of Late Nite Labs, WebEx, and Google Docs will allow traditional science labs to move into the digital realm while maintaining the collaborative nature and educational value of the traditional science lab. This redesigned system would improve upon the traditional lab environment in that it would allow students who are separated by large distances to perform laboratory experiential in the same way the traditional lab student.

In general, this assignment has gotten me to think outside the box a bit. It made me utilize multiple tools in different ways and in combinations with each other to solve a single, complex problem. Mainly science faculty members get information via email regarding Late Nite Labs, WebEx, or Google Docs, but none of them discuss how to utilize them all to acheive something that none of them can do individually. By merging Late Nite Labs along with WebEx and Google Docs, I was able to incorporate all the collaborative learning experiences that we get in traditional Labs while maintaining a totally online experience. From now on, I need to keep in mind that not only do I need to think about new technology tools in my course, but also look at using multiple tools together to achieve even more.