JoVE in Action: Preparing Students for Lab Work in a Biological Research Course

Supriya Kamath, JoVE Writer | 7 min read
Supriya Kamath, JoVE Writer | 7 min read

JoVE in Action is a series of blog posts highlighting how STEM educators around the world have used JoVE to support their remote teaching efforts. We hope these stories will be useful for instructors looking for effective ways to deliver their science and lab courses online or in hybrid formats. 

Dr. Janet Chamberlain is a University Teacher in the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease at the University of Sheffield Medical School. In the fall semester last year, she was teaching an MRes course for postgraduate students and intercalating medical students with little or no lab experience. A key part of this course was a practical lab project teaching basic tissue culture skills and utilizing data analysis techniques. Social distancing measures, however, meant that Dr. Chamberlain had to quickly transform the in-person lab project into a hybrid format.

Ensuring that the students received strong lab training was particularly important to her course: one of its goals was to introduce them to common techniques and standard equipment before they begin a 7-month project for their dissertation. To accomplish this, Dr. Chamberlain decided to incorporate JoVE videos into the hybrid lab module. “JoVE videos showing how to passage cells, use a haemocytometer, etc. will enable students to see how these techniques are performed, before entering the lab — enabling me to reduce the planned time they will spend in the department, and reduce the need for closer contact as someone demonstrates the technique,” she said.

The videos were embedded into Blackboard, the institution’s learning management system. Students were required to watch the videos themselves before arriving at the lab. “These videos give the students the background behind the techniques used in their project, as well as detailed protocols on how to perform each technique, to replace the teaching they would have in the lab, before beginning their own practical work,” noted Dr. Chamberlain. She set her Blackboard settings to gather data on engagement, so she could tell which videos the students accessed. In addition, she planned online tutorial sessions for students to ask questions about the protocols.

Once students arrived at the lab, they had to perform and analyze a scratch assay themselves. Visualizing the steps of this technique beforehand helped streamline the social distancing process — teaching staff, who were present in the lab to provide assistance, did not have to demonstrate the method. The students and teaching staff livestreamed from GoPro cameras worn on head harnesses as they worked; this enabled supervision and teaching to occur from a distance. The students later presented their findings from the experiment.

In addition, Dr. Chamberlain also incorporated some JoVE videos into a lab health and safety presentation, e.g., the electrical safety video and the video on the use of lab notebooks. This presentation was delivered to students remotely and was followed by a Kahoot challenge quiz on the lab safety topics covered, which they could complete on their own time. Students were expected to get most questions correct before being allowed to work in the lab.

For other faculty looking to incorporate video into their course, Dr. Chamberlain recommends that they watch the full video themselves, and if there are specific parts that are more relevant to their needs than others, they should let students know. “Shorter videos can be used within a teaching session – played to the students to demonstrate your point, but longer videos will probably work best as self-directed learning,” she added. 

Another takeaway from Dr. Chamberlain’s experience is to be equipped for any eventuality — prior to the beginning of the semester, she had planned for the possibility of an entirely remote lab course. In this scenario, students would be asked to use JoVE videos to aid in planning how they would undertake their experiments, e.g., calculating dilutions they would need, and which controls they would use. They would then be supplied with some example data to analyze for their assessment. 

Ultimately, however, the lab course was carried out in a hybrid format, and successfully so. “They were more aware of what to do, and how to do it, when they reached the lab, and enabled safe teaching — keeping a 2m distance — instead of having to demonstrate a technique with closer contact,” said Dr. Chamberlain of using JoVE videos in the hybrid research course. “The previewing of techniques in this way actually made for easier teaching in the lab with respect to the students being more prepared also — so I will hopefully keep using this method in future years (when social distancing is no longer needed).”

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