In first semester my involvement in transitioning to online was in my capacity as Associate Dean – Teaching and Learning (ADTL). I was not teaching in any subjects at the time. As the semester progressed we did some informal work to identify strategies utilized across the science disciplines designed to replace laboratory and field trip experiences. Transition to online does have a negative impact on this aspect of our work as the College does have strong reliance on physical “place” for the student experience. That said, there are some effective work-around strategies. Recording of labs, and the use of external data sources are common substitutes.
Below is an indication of the strategies used in different disciplines.
Considering the short time period we had to transfer, it did not go too bad with replacing labs in the Earth Science subjects. There is fortunately a lot of online resources available, which has been distributed globally for the different subdisciplines (mineralogy, geochemistry, petrology). Obviously, online practicals can never replace the real experience of looking at rock and mineral samples. The same applies for field work.
Zoology and Ecology
In my first year subject, BS1007-AG1007, first-year pracs are intended to allow students to see live animals, and to get experience with things like structure and function in different groups. We have replaced all the pracs with on-line material, including a short introductory lecture, followed by worksheets similar to those used in regular pracs, but loaded with photos and videos, attempting to make the whole thing as engaging as possible.
For BZ3235/5235 Biological Invasions: Field excursions with the National Four Tropical Weeds Eradication Program, the National Electric Ant Eradication Program, the Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication Program, and the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy have been replaced by videos either supplied by the program, or created by us with their help (e.g., Biosecurity Queensland came to the JCU Community Garden and demonstrated electric ant survey techniques). As schedules have allowed, I have also organized Collaborate Q&A sessions with representatives of the various programs.
In house pracs: we had a multiweek experiment we were conducting and will now load photos of the students’ plant trays so that they can still collect data and analyze results.
BZ2725/5925 Australian Terrestrial Diversity: We were scheduled to have a 3 day field trip to the DRO so that students could learn about invertebrate and vertebrate collection techniques. We created a series of instructional videos that we have uploaded so that students could still meet these learning outcomes. See here for example: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTBGSAftzAE4kXTG39vgJiqh-zkflaN4u
Physics pracs were pivoted to become recorded demonstrations of the equipment and procedure. Online discussions are held during scheduled sessions (using Subject Room/Collaborate) in which the pre-lab task is checked, the recorded demos viewed, queries arising are addressed and then data are provided to the students for analysis. While not provided their own experience with the equipment, this achieves the Learning Outcome of analysing data and considering the underlying concepts (which are aligned to lecture content).
For two experiments, our technicians collected raw data for the students and I made a PowerPoint style document explaining the experiments and supplemented it with a video. We also have “pre-lab” videos from previous years that show how the experiments are carried out. The assessment is by an online quiz.
For CH2210, we had completed 2 of the 6 practical experiments in the lab before the closure. The next two experiments, I have provided students with raw data and have asked them to process it answer questions and write a report.
The last two experiments we have left open. Our initial hope was that they could be completed in June/July if the COVID situation has eased. i.e. the students come in for a day or two and complete those pracs. If this does not eventuate the intent is to remove them from the assessment for the subject but to include them in the level 3 version of the subject CH3210.
I was back teaching mathematics across three subjects. Engaging in discussions in mathematics usually involves equations with symbols that are not easily typed in online environments. Those of us doing this work had some sharing sessions where we spoke about strategies used across campus:
YOUR TASK is to bring along one tip/strategy/tool/example/solution you have found effective in tackling one problem or challenge that has been a sticking point for you in the online universe. This might be in how you communicate numeracy ideas with students, how students interact with you, how students interact with each other. What are we doing with equations, diagrams and explanations? How are students effectively expressing misunderstandings?
Our next session is around online examinations, which I think many of us agree we still have much to learn about:
The theme for this lunch will be principles and practical aspects of designing online maths questions for exams. xxxxx (LTSE Ed Designer) will be leading the discussion and has some innovative ways of designing questions that mitigate cheating and target higher order thinking.
Overall the College has done remarkably well in coping with the Covid challenge. There is much discussion and debate about implications moving forward. There is a shared view that opportunities exist, to take the best elements of what we have learned about online delivery to better cater for our increasingly time-poor students. At the same time we have learned that our students do value the laboratory and field trip experiences that have been denied through Covid.