Jacqueline Ling, a communication intern for The Wheel, wrote this piece. She is a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Professional Writing at UC Davis. Outside of her academic studies, Jacqueline sequences DNA at the UCDNA Sequencing Facility, and also serves as the VP of Public Relations and Marketing for Alpha Chi Omega. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring new places and trying new foods.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to a rapid and radical shift to online education, leading us to discover that some courses are difficult to teach remotely. UC Davis offers its students more than 100 majors and minors, though it is perhaps best known for its science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. At the core of many STEM studies is the traditional laboratory course, requiring students to attend in-person meetings to gain hands-on experience using field-specific tools and technologies as they learn the course material. Such courses have been hard-hit by the transition to remote teaching because of the difficulty of recreating the collaborative, hands-on environment of the science lab. As a biochemistry and molecular biology major at UC Davis myself, I took a lab course during the spring quarter. Though the shift to remote teaching has been stressful, some instructors have taken innovative approaches to adapt to a remote format, which I appreciate as a student. Widely adopted, these same approaches could help ease the stress of this situation for students across disciplines.
How is this laboratory course functioning?
This spring I was registered for two separate courses that pertain to said laboratory course, one the lecture course and the other the lab; and they were to be taken concurrently. The lecture course taught students about the experiments they will be conducting and how to analyze the results, while the lab course was the location where the students would have met in-person to practice the procedures and collect data.
- Lecture course. With the move to online learning, the students in the lecture course watched recorded lectures from previous years in preparation for the virtual lab, which was held during a live Zoom session once a week where the instructor and TAs reviewed the procedures of the experiment. During the pre-recorded lecture, students learned how to analyze the data they received in the virtual lab session.
- Laboratory course. This course has now been replaced with a completely new one called the CBS COVID Capstone. This class emphasizes using multidisciplinary skills to combine biological, chemical, and quantitative approaches to learn about the pandemic. In addition to my laboratory course, three other courses cannot meet in-person, so the instructors of each course created this new class together to “replace” the laboratory course in which students are enrolled. According to the class homepage on UC Davis Canvas, “the instructors are designing a set of modules that cover different aspects of COVID19-related biology. [The] goal is that [students] develop an appreciation for the different perspectives that each field of biology can bring to a problem even as [students] practice analytical methods and reasoning.”
How well is this COVID Capstone course working?
With very little time to design a new course, the instructors and teaching staff practiced innovation and brought a relevant topic to the classroom. From this course, students learned information they can directly apply to their academic and professional goals.
This pandemic has been challenging for both instructors and students alike. The professors and TAs invested significant time and effort into streamlining this course. Materials, including a pre-lab lecture, assignment, and readings, were prepared every week to introduce students to the platforms and ideas in that specific module. In addition, renowned scientists, doctors, and experts joined us every Friday afternoon, speaking to students about their research and perspectives and answering any questions from the instructors and students.
The approach of this class allowed students to branch out into a variety of scientific disciplines, and thus learn about topics that they might not otherwise have been able to. The faculty and students rose to the challenge. This spring, everyone had new responsibilities and distractions in the “work” mindset that accompanied the shelter-in-place order. The CBS COVID Capstone also introduced new concepts that I hadn’t expected to be learning in the spring quarter, as both of my laboratory courses (the lecture course and lab course) would have been focused on the same subject area. Some of the new or unexpected material taught in some modules challenged me. Since the instructors of this COVID Capstone course were the instructors that would have taught their respective lab courses, they taught almost the same concepts as they would have originally done so in the quarter, while making the great variety of lessons applicable to the pandemic.
With all the changes students are facing, compassion and flexibility go a long way, now more than ever. The instructors of the CBS COVID Capstone held weekly “open office” Zoom sessions in addition to regular office hours for students to discuss any questions or issues pertaining to the course, as well as the (often personal) impacts of the pandemic. I have yet to see the implementation of this idea in my other courses, and I commend the forethought of the instructors. The instructor of my original lab course also announced that “no student gets left behind,” referring to passing/not passing the class; although students will lose points for submitting late assignments, they would still pass the course as long as they submit the assignments.
Given the collaborative nature of laboratory classes, the relocation to remote courses was a challenge. However, the instructors and teaching staff of our remote courses were adaptable and creative. I appreciate that they welcomed the feedback of students. Despite the overwhelming stress from having to balance four rigorous courses in the online classroom among other responsibilities, I felt supported by the professors and TAs. STEM courses have always been a strength of UC Davis, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has shed light on more important matters: the strength of UC Davis lies in its community of resilient and caring people.