Upon their return to campus, students and faculty expressed mixed reactions to the return to classroom labs.
Julia Espeso, lab manager for Gen Ed 1104: “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science,” said Covid-19 safety measures in the classroom detracted from the experiment overall class.
“Science and Cooking is a place where students can eat their own labs – it’s part of the curriculum, we want students to eat what they create, and of course we can’t do that in the lab.” , Espeso said. “We kind of miss that big part of all of us who appreciate what we just created together.”
Despite the limitations, Espeso pointed to the high enrollment in the class compared to previous years as evidence that students are actively seeking âhands-onâ lab experiences.
âI think the students have received it – they are well aware that we are doing what we can to give them the best possible experience – so I think they appreciate it very much,â Espeso said.
Joao Pedro “JP” Vieira ’22 said he preferred to be back in class for the labs as it was difficult to absorb the material while learning at a distance and hands-on experience in person is the “best way to do it. ‘to learn”.
Ye Rim “Grace” Chang ’22 echoed her preference for hands-on learning in her classroom, Life Sciences 2: “Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy”.
âI’m really glad we’re in person because a lot of things are being dissected,â Chang said. âWhen you have it in front of you and are able to touch it, you could certainly learn better. “
Vieira noted the convenience of doing online labs, however, as an advantage of virtual learning over in-person instruction.
âIt takes less time, it’s less of a thing you have to walk and be in person to,â Vieira said. “I think being in person takes a lot more energy from you.”
Chang also argued that attending labs practically saved a lot of time, and noted that a virtual format made visual observations in experiments more apparent, which was beneficial for his learning.
âYou can just quickly go through the reaction and see it drastically change colors and that’s a really cool thing to watch, instead of just standing there for 30 minutes and seeing it gradually changing,â Chang said.
Chang added that doing experiments in the lab practically allowed her to care less about detail and “be super meticulous,” and instead she could focus on understanding why the students were running the lab.
With the benefits of virtual labs in mind, Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs said the Harvard Board of Directors and the Office of Science Education are discussing what aspects of virtual learning could be applied to return to work in person.
âWhat lessons have we learned from the pandemic experience that can be applied to the in-person component of what we do at Harvard? ” he said.
Stubbs said organizing virtual lab experiments over the past year has forced the faculty to consider issues of equitable access and diversity.
âThe conversation with the supervisors, I think it’s interesting to note, quickly turned to what the faculty learned about the diversity of our student body and the extent to which having people on the campus is helping in part – but not entirely – to level the playing field and prepare people to step up and be active learners on campus, âStubbs said.
Stubbs added that the virtual academic year has helped students and faculty connect in new ways.
“I think in some ways the experience of meeting on Zoom from our respective homes has put us more in touch with people as humans than I think when we all walk into the classroom together. “, added Stubbs. “I hope this is a spirit we can bring to everything we do together.”
âEditor-in-Chief Justin Lee can be contacted at [email protected]