Deputy Principal (Learning and Teaching) Weekly Update - Developing online alternatives for labs, field trips and studios



This week’s article has been written with Professor Tadhg O’Donovan, Associate Head of EPS (Dubai), and Dr Alex Buckley of the Learning and Teaching Academy. It refers to work undertaken this summer by a Special Interest Group (SIG) led by Professor O’Donovan involving colleagues from across Schools and campus locations. Thanks to everyone who participated in the SIG and contributed advice and case studies to the new document.

This week’s topic: developing online alternatives for labs, field trips and studios.

The importance of practical skills and knowledge

For many disciplines, practical (hands-on and location-based) skills and knowledge are a key focus of students’ activity. Science and Engineering students learn lab techniques and the ability to design and execute experiments; students in subjects like Geoscience and Geography spend time in the field; Design students create physical artefacts in shared studio spaces.

The need to support practical student learning

Where campuses, workshops, laboratories, and studios have reduced capacity, we need to support students who are not able to attend in-person sessions or real-world field trips, and new approaches are therefore required.

Guidance, advice and case-study examples

A University Special Interest Group (SIG) has worked over the summer to develop practical guidance for staff. It contains advice about how to implement Responsive Blended Learning for practice-based activities, along with case-studies to demonstrate innovative ways to complement, replicate or replace current activities.

Guidance is provided for three distinct activities: laboratory exercises, field trips and studio-based activities.

Explicit and implicit learning outcomes

In exploring alternatives it is essential to bear in mind not just the explicit learning outcomes  – described to students and listed in course documents – but also the more implicit learning outcomes that are important but not always overtly stated. The implicit learning outcomes – for example teamwork, time management and personal responsibility - are generally more behavioural and developed over time through experience. 

Exploring alternatives

The case studies illustrate alternative approaches that may be taken in the lab, the field and the studio. Creative approaches to supporting the achievement of particular learning outcomes are often unlocked by the use of digital and online technology. In the case of labs for example, alternative approaches may include: simulated environments, recorded videos, remote operation (by staff), laboratory ‘take-home’ kits and ‘at home’ kits. The case studies illustrate how some of these methods can work in practice in each of these settings.

Virtual vs Physical

Whilst a virtual experience cannot replicate a physical experience, the case studies demonstrate that there are many ways in which student learning outcomes can be achieved in physically distanced and online settings.

Further Information

Further information and staff resources supporting the delivery of Responsive Blended Learning can be accessed through the Learning and Teaching Academy website.