Lemons, Image by Richard John from Pixabay

It has been almost a year that the Covid-19 pandemic upended the world. My latest blog post is from that time (gulp), and I recall the frenzy of the months as courses never taught online before had to be adapted in a rush. As an early user of online tools in my teaching, I noticed the surprise of instructors who never taught online before when they realized how much work is to set up a good online course! Because one thing is to teach a course online, and another to design it to be engaging, accessible, provide a virtual community space for students, while still providing plenty of opportunities for learning and assessment.

Over a year, however, online and zoom has become mainstream, and I am encouraged to see a move towards appreciation of online tools (and their limitations), as well as a number of creative solutions and adaptations.

In November 2020 we decided to convert the CURE plastics project, which involved a field trip, not a virtual experience. Part of it required curation of resources- using documentaries and links to provide the background of the research project. The other (really fun) part was to create new resources: that included recording of lectures and field trip footage, experimenting with GoPro cameras to provide the point of view of somebody participating. The material still needs more editing, but here is a short video reel of what we do. The virtual field trip was piloted in a non majors general biology lab course.

Video reel by Saul Torres

As for instructional design, we went for scaffolding of the material:

  • Two weeks before the “field trip”- students watch a documentary related to plastic pollution and discuss it in a Discussion Board
  • Week before the field trip: students watch recorded lectures about the experimental design (assessed as part of their weekly quiz)
  • Week of the field trip:
    • Students watch footage of a real field trip
    • Updates are posted in course LMS and social media
    • A padlet is prepared in advance of the Q&A, with information and introductions of the speakers
  • End of week: Live Q &A with a panel composed by researchers, instructors, and research students. After a general discussion, students are divided in breakout rooms according to their interests (plastic pollution, careers in science etc).

Results were…good! Overall we felt a lot of engagement, got many questions and expressions of interest. A survey comparing Likert scores of student perception of science, laboratory work, research etc. gave very encouraging results.

Comparison of survey scores of online vs onsite students, before and after the experience.

In summary, while online students rated their knowledge and appreciation significantly lower compared to their onsite counterparts, they “caught up” to the onsite students after the field trip experience, even if virtual. While this may not be a solution for a majors’ level hands-on course, it does provide a way to increase student engagement and knowledge of science topics without needing lots of resources. This in fact provides more equity and inclusivity to field trip experiences, especially this one- students did not have to live by the coast in order to experience it.

Long story short, we are happy and hopeful. We just repeated the experience in February and are looking forward the data. Next try will be in July

Making lemonade, online edition