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Outside the Lab Training and education, Profession

Long-Distance Lab Learning

COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on education – both in the lab and beyond. Though some elements of theory can be delivered remotely without a hitch, laboratory skills training poses practical challenges. To fulfil this need, professors from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign developed a remote lab module to teach students micropipetting skills at home (1).

“Our focus was to give students as much hands-on technical practice with lab techniques as possible. This motivated us to create lab kits to ship to students and develop this first lab exercise where students learn to use micropipettes,” says Karin Jensen, Teaching Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and one of the project’s developers. “After this initial activity, we also had several experiments that students could complete at home that focused on practicing lab skills, such as loading an agarose gel.”

When asked about the challenges they faced when developing the module, Jensen recalls, “Identifying reliable and cost-effective equipment, then being able to source the number that we needed for the class and ship all the kit components to students. We also needed to adjust the protein content in our dilution solutions to get an accurate readout.”

Developing platforms and kits for remote lab modules is beneficial for giving students flexibility and increasing accessibility.

Overall, the module received positive feedback from students – noting their appreciation that they could continue to have a practical class component despite the pandemic. “Developing platforms and kits for remote lab modules is also beneficial for giving students flexibility and increasing accessibility,” notes Jensen. “Our activity was asynchronous during the first few weeks of class, allowing students to work on their own time.”

In future, Jensen believes that remote lab options will further increase accessibility for students who are unable to attend in-person sessions, rather than waiting for a make-up lab later in the semester. She says, “This is a focus of a new project that we are starting this fall, in which remote students will connect virtually to the live in-person lab sessions and use their lab kits to follow along and practice techniques.”

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  1. MN Jawad et al., J Microbiol Biol Educ, 22, 22.1.27 (2021). PMID: 33884063.
About the Author
Liv Gaskill

During my undergraduate degree in psychology and Master’s in neuroimaging for clinical and cognitive neuroscience, I realized the tasks my classmates found tedious – writing essays, editing, proofreading – were the ones that gave me the greatest satisfaction. I quickly gathered that rambling on about science in the bar wasn’t exactly riveting for my non-scientist friends, so my thoughts turned to a career in science writing. At Texere, I get to craft science into stories, interact with international experts, and engage with readers who love science just as much as I do.

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