Case Studies

Microbiology live online lab practicals

The following case study was written by Dr Isabel Murillo and was conducted in collaboration with Dr Jon Tyrrell and Dr Cheryl Whittles.

The Practice

Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (MMID) is a first year unit run by the Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM) School during the second teaching block. This unit is compulsory for Biomedical Sciences and CMM students and has a cohort of about 260 students. MMID delivers 4 lab practicals of 3-hours in the Teaching Lab. These lab practicals are very popular according to the student feedback.

Last academic year MMID lab practicals had to be online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The new format of the lab practical was challenging but also exciting and motivating from the educator perspective. The biggest challenge was to design an online format that was engaging for 3 hours.

As the lab practical leader, I came up with a plan that needed the collaboration of my colleagues. Fortunately, the plan was kindly welcomed. The experimental information for the lab practical was posted online in eBiolabs as always, however, we used Blackboard to post activities that will be used during the lab practical sessions. For each synchronous session, both Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom were used.

Lab practicals have an element of flipped teaching. Students must read the experimental information before the lab practical and take a pre-lab quiz. Importantly, the student knowledge is assessed after the lab practical by a post-lab quiz. Both quizzes are found in e-Biolabs.

The lab practical session is divided into four parts:

Introduction

(~20 min) takes place in Bb Collaborate. During this session, a Zoom link is provided.

Research Mobile Lab

(~20 min, Zoom): a team of academics is live broadcasted. The Teaching Lab manager takes us to different research labs where the team gives the students a tour around the research labs, introduces the student to the importance of their research, and sometimes shows the students how to perform some techniques relevant to their research. Students have the opportunity of asking questions.

Lab practical experiments

(~ 2h, Zoom): Students are split into assigned breakout groups to work collaboratively. The material needed for this part is in the form of Padlet and is posted on Blackboard. Students are given a series of experiments to interpret, problems to resolve, etc. Each group’s answers have to be posted in the same Padlets. To make the virtual experience more real, we use simulators such as the Virtual Microscope or virtual microbiology tests. Students are asked to take a break before starting to work in a group and to leave the session when they finish.

Wrapping up

(~20 min, Zoom): students meet the lab practical leader in the main room for a wrap-up session. The results posted in the Padlets are discussed, and any misunderstandings are clarified. Once the session has ended, students have five working days to submit their individual post-lab quizzes.

At the end of each session, we ask students to give feedback.

The Impact

The impact of the new format of the lab practical has been on multiple fronts.

 First of all, we wanted the student to have the opportunity to visit the research labs virtually and to have the opportunity of asking the researchers questions.

Secondly, to make the lab practical engaging, we added different elements so students could perceive the time as dynamic rather than being in one single virtual room. The use of Padlets meant we could monitor the student engagement with the activities in real time.

Thirdly, we wanted the students to have the possibility of social interaction and collaborative work. Some groups were really engaged with tasks, with cameras on and lots of discussions. Other groups struggled with connectivity, and turning cameras on was not an option, but nevertheless they managed to perform well.

Finally, we wanted the lab practicals to be fun, not only for the students but also for us as a team. So we added the Research Lab Mobile, in which each lab practical took place in different labs. The guests, the activities and the scenario changed and made it very interesting.

Lab practicals were recorded and posted on Blackboard and made accessible to those students who could not attend the live online sessions. Moreover, the material has been adapted for other units such as Foundations in Technique of microbiology.

Feedback received by students was very positive and very constructive. Students felt that they were closer to the academics involved by virtually sharing their labs and research. The use of simulators made the practicals more dynamic and authentic. Many students felt that working collaboratively in the breakout groups was a good experience. Only a few preferred to work individually.

The impact on this academic year has also been very constructive, as we have been able to reuse all the material. The material posted in Blackboard has been rolled over this academic year. It has been very helpful for those students enrolled in the unit but unable to attend the lab practicals. They were advised to use the content of the live online lab practicals to complete the post-lab quizzes.

Next Steps

We want to share this experience with everybody. We have already disseminated this practice in a seminar (Lecturemotely), and we are putting together the information in a paper for publication. We will continue using the filmed material, presentations and Padlets in the coming academic years.

Contact

Please contact Isabel Murillo by emailing I.Murillo@bristol.ac.uk

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