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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Academics & Research

How professors are adapting science labs to work online


Some professors removed or modified their course assignments in order to do what they thought would work best for their students. Other departments had an easier transition to online classes since they already hosted a variety of online courses. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

Some professors removed or modified their course assignments to do what they thought would work best for their students. Other departments had an easier transition to online classes since they already hosted a variety of online courses. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, professors have had to adapt their courses to work online — some classes being more challenging to transform than others.

Professors that teach courses with required in-person testing, labs, performances and other unique challenges work to find how students could still learn their material and have an online learning method that works best for them in this unprecedented situation. 

“The biggest change is getting used to the idea that (professors) won’t be in the classroom with the students they enjoy,” said Jeff Morgan, associate provost for Education Innovation and Technology. “Otherwise, it’s just a matter of learning new technology from their fellow colleagues and instructional designers.”

After the announcement that UH would go completely online, individual colleges held training for faculty to learn how to best transform their classrooms.

Instructional designers at UH also created tutorials to help faculty use different online tools.

As you could guess, the range of experience with online teaching within the faculty ranks was very wide,” said civil and environmental engineering department chair Roberto Ballarini. 

For classes with labs that have an emphasis on collecting data hands-on, professors face a unique challenge when they reformed their courses.

“We replaced those by simulated labs, and increased emphasis on design and simulation,” said mechanical engineering department chair Pradeep Sharma.

Other departments said their labs are modeling a similar format, placing a focus on concepts, experimental setup and analysis. 

One major adjustment that some instructors had to make was the way their certification exams are conducted. For the construction management department, the American Institute of Construction exam was meant to be in person and on paper, but since its cancellation, adjustments had to be made.

“If we do not do anything, students will have to wait for the fall exam, and this may interrupt their academic progress and delay graduation,” said construction management department chair Lingguang Song.

Now, the department is making an online mock-up exam for students, hoping this could not only accommodate the extenuating circumstances but even push for a format change in the future.

Some departments had an easier transition to online classes since they already had several online courses, such as the sociology department.

This helped ease the transition for those courses and for the faculty who have taught online or hybrid in the past,” said sociology department chair Amanda Baumle.

Some professors removed or modified their course assignments to do what they thought would work best for their students.

In the College of Education, director of communications Ericka Mellon said faculty have worked to prioritize critical assignments but still put their students’ well-being first.

“Our students did not ask to lose a semester of learning, of fieldwork, of research opportunities,” said College of Education Dean Robert McPherson in an email to staff. “Let’s give them the best we can given the circumstances we face.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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