With the transition from in-person to online lab classes, lab instructors, TAs and students are learning to adapt to the new format. Daily Nexus Photo Archives

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Chancellor Henry T. Yang has announced that UC Santa Barbara will be delivering all in-person instruction remotely. Online instruction is new and challenging for everyone. It is even more challenging to conduct lab classes remotely, as traditional lab classes require professional locations and equipment and need to be conducted under the supervision of an instructor. 

One student, a first-year pre-chemistry major, said, “I feel upset about the fact that I can no longer go to lab class anymore. Lab class was one of my favorite classes to go to.”

To ensure that students’ learning goals are met, UCSB natural science departments are working diligently to find effective ways to provide students with similar learning experiences as in-person classes.

Petra Van Koppen, a senior lecturer in the UCSB Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the instructor of the general chemistry lab series Chem 1AL, 1BL and 1CL, described in an email how her lab classes are conducting this quarter.

“Students watch a pre-lab lecture video, take a weekly quiz, watch the experiment video, record data, process data, write up a lab report including their data, their calculations, a summary of results, answers to review questions and a discussion.  Everything is posted and graded on Gauchospace.”

More specifically, according to Professor Van Koppen, for pre-lab lectures, “instructional development came to [their] labs to record all the pre-lab lectures and experiments. Students earn Lab Technique Points as follows. They watch the Pre-Lab Lecture video posted on Gauchospace and indicate three important lab techniques covered in the pre-lab lecture that will help [them] obtain good results in doing the experiment and important concepts covered to help [them] understand the results.’’

The Lab Technique Points system of the pre-lecture videos has worked especially well for students. According to Van Koppen, Chem 1CL students indicated that “this is the first time they really understand the concepts and what the experiment is all about.” Van Koppen said that the department is planning to have students do similar things next year — even if they are back on campus. 

However, the instructors are also facing difficulties due to the change in the teaching method. “Remote teaching is much more work,” Van Koppen said. “TAs and instructors in charge of the lab, feel that holding office hours in person works much better than office hours via Zoom. Although we have more office hours it is much easier to interact and engage with students in person.”

Meanwhile, unfortunately, several departments had to make the decision to cancel some of their lab classes due to the transition to remote learning. The UCSB Physics department has canceled Physics 4L, Physics 5L and Physics 13CH; the chemistry and biochemistry department has canceled Chem 1AL.

JR, a second-year physics minor who was planning to take Physics 5L this quarter, said, “This is the last class I need to finish the prerequisite of [my] physics minor, so for that reason, my schedule is delayed because of the cancelation of physics lab.”

Van Koppen explained that the reason for the cancellation of Chem 1AL is that “in Chem 1AL, students learn many lab techniques, concepts, how to do experiments, and how to write up their lab reports. We feel that Chem 1AL cannot be taught effectively online.”

Online instruction is a first-time experience for most of the instructors, and many of them are paying close attention to students’ responses and needs and are adjusting their teaching method as the quarter proceeds. 

“So far it seems to be going well. Students are feeling good about their experience with the online labs although they miss doing the labs themselves. Several students indicated that they feel the online labs are going much better than they expected,” Van Koppen said.