Professors innovate chemistry, physics labs as classes move online

Mar 30, 2020 | Engineering and Science, Faculty/Staff, General News, Innovation, Uncategorized

After Louisiana Tech University closed campus to classes in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, instructors in Louisiana Tech’s Chemistry and Physics labs migrated the traditionally hands-on lessons online.

Pedro Derosa works from home.

Dr. Pedro Derosa leads his classes from home as the state remains under a stay-at-home order.

Faculty and staff worked quickly, adapting experiments for nearly 40 class sections from in-lab to online delivery in less than a week. They adjusted lessons, creating videos and online quizzes and using video conference software for entry-level labs and reimagined advanced labs to integrated experiments that students can perform off-site using open-source software and chemicals found in most homes.

Students in the courses are able to watch a video of the course instructor or teaching assistant performing an experiment, to gather data from the video, and to take quizzes indicating what they’ve learned from the experiment. They are also able to ask questions and communicate with the instructor digitally.

As Dr. Pedro Derosa, program chair and professor of Physics, points out that despite the setback of not being face-to-face, this process is not much different than an in-person lab where one member of a team performs the experiment and the others watch and record data.

“Teaching a lab is almost by definition a face-to-face activity, definitively, how to provide an alternative activity that has the same educational value of a hands-on activity is the biggest challenge that we faced,” Derosa said. “This is particularly difficult in the physics sophomore lab series, which are designed to be the first contact with a formal lab activity for many students. We determined that the best way to present the labs was to provide the same atmosphere digitally, through video. By watching the video, all students are in the role of the ‘notetakers’ who observe experiments for their team.”

Chemistry labs are being presented in a similar method. Lab instructors and teaching assistants are in the process of completing and recording each lab assignment for students to participate in online. Unlike physics labs, chemistry labs are presented in segments that a student cannot access until they have completed the quiz for the previous segment.

Jessica Wasserman, instructor of Chemistry, says that the idea for providing the content in segments came to her over dinner with her husband as she mulled over how to keep her graduate assistant working.

Both Derosa and Wasserman point out that the success of the new labs is because of the group effort between instructors and teaching assistants who converted the experiments into online experiences while maintaining the interactive spirit of the content and because students are approaching the online labs with a positive attitude.

“Both students and faculty are committed to a successful quarter,” Wasserman said. “Students are engaging well with the labs we’ve held over the last week. They’re invested in their education, and students and faculty are working together to make the best of this situation that we possibly can.”

“Students in my lab have been willing to work with me,” Derosa added. “I’m hearing the same from instructors of sophomore labs. Students seem to be asking the right questions to make this a successful quarter.”

Dr. Hisham Hegab, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, says that he is pleased with the ingenuity that the faculty and staff have used in getting classes online so quickly.

“I’m thankful that our faculty, staff and teaching assistants are so dedicated to ensuring that students in these classes have the best possible learning experience,” Hegab said. “I hope that our students will continue to embrace the challenges that this quarter will present.”