#DryLabsRealScience: Teaching practicals without labs
16 Nov 2020
Wondering how to teach wet science, forensics and laboratory best practice remotely? Or have you already found an engaging solution you are happy to share? Here Ian Turner, Professor in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Derby, looks at how to deliver authentic practical science online and introduces a blossoming new online community where innovative virtual solutions are shared…
When the first governmental restrictions due to COVID came into force, Universities may have shut their doors, but they certainly did not close. In fact, they had to undergo a rapid transition in order to teach all their subjects remotely. For those of us teaching science, this provided a particular challenge; how do we deliver an authentic practical experience in an online environment?
#DryLabsRealScience – an online collaboration network for life sciences education
As academics across the sector adjusted, modified, and proposed ideas, we developed #DryLabsRealScience; an online collaborative network to support life science academics and researchers in providing the best experience for their students. We realised that only by talking to each other, sharing best practise, and working through the challenges we faced as a community could we provide the best experience for our students.
The network began as series of free online seminars in which academics from the life sciences shared their practise in supporting undergraduate practical’s, final year dissertation projects, mentoring postgraduate research students and their own research, all with limited or no access to actual laboratories. The experiences they shared were truly innovative and ranged from; the use of virtual laboratories and how to undertake ‘dry’ final year projects, to producing and using a video-based practical.
A real highlight of the network is people’s openness and willingness to share their ideas and approaches with each other, for me at least it has been a highlight in a tough year. The network seminars attract audiences of 50 to 130 academics and we have a 250+ strong mailing list.
As our network expanded, we teamed up with the fabulous team at Lectureremotely - the site for Higher Education lecturers and institutions to find and share resources and support for remote teaching, assessment and student support in response to COVID-19 - to host the communities’ resources and enable a wider academic audience to access and benefit from them. These include full recordings and materials for every talk that the network has hosted, a series of one-page best practise guides on how to do things such as ‘designing qualitative questionnaire-based dissertations’ and a series discipline-specific infographics which highlight free databases, visual tools and learning materials.
#RemoteForensicCSI – sharing best practice for crime scene and criminal justice education
On the back of this network, and a chance encounter, #RemoteForensicCSI was launched. This network was designed to serve the crime scene and criminal justice sectors by sharing institutional best practice in the investigative science. Like #DryLabsRealScience the network runs on monthly seminars where experts from across the country share their best practice. The first event attracted 150 attendees from higher education and further education. So far, talks have covered crime scene investigation, forensic imaging laboratory analysis, court room assessment and forensic toxicology. As a result of this network several Universities have worked together to create a national student community. The student forensic societies have been opening up their talks to other institutions, Ror example, the upcoming Staffordshire University FACS society event on ‘detection of clandestine graves’.
The resources from #RemoteForensicCSI have also joined up with Lecturemotely creating an impressive bank of resources for the sector. So far, the website has bene visited by over 12,000 people from 32 countries.
Restricted access to laboratories during lockdown increases demand for remote education resources
We are humbled by the success and support for these initiatives but as we deal with a second lockdown and restricted access to laboratories these networks remain as important as ever in supporting the community. Both networks have events scheduled in the next month and we continue to work towards understanding what support the sector needs, with the intention of helping those who can provide it if possible.
To finish, I must say the biggest pleasure has of this network has been working with my fellow organisers: Dr Nigel Francis (Swansea University) and Dr David Smith (Sheffield Hallam University) for #DryLabsRealScience and Leisa Nichols-Drew (De Montfort University) and Dr Rachel Bolton-King (Staffordshire University) for #RemoteForensicCSI. Though I am writing the article on this occasion, these networks are very much team ventures.
Author: Ian Turner is Professor in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Derby and a co-founder of the #DryLabsRealScience network.