As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning has necessarily become an integral part of the day-to-day life of students, faculty, and staff at the University of Waterloo. One of the challenges often associated with online learning is creating active engagements between students and instructors, especially with hands on learning opportunities such as with labs.
In an effort to address the challenges commonly faced with online learning, Faculty of Science instructors are developing projects aimed at enhancing online learning for graduate and undergraduate students. Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) announced a $50 million investment in virtual learning, with $88,823 going towards Waterloo Science projects.
Kim Cuddington, Professor in the Department of Biology, alongside Professor Brian Ingalls from the Faculty of Mathematics, are creating resources for biology graduate students and junior scientists to allow learners to work through modules on quantitative aspects of biology at their own pace.
While talking to colleagues during a virtual workshop, Cuddington realized the majority of resources and initiatives are targeted towards undergraduate students, leaving graduate students and junior scientists without the support they need to learn new and emerging quantitative skills. Many quantitative methods used in biology, for example coding and running statistical analyses in R, rely on graduate students or junior scientists to teach themselves through trial and error. Often there is not even an expert in these techniques at their institution to guide them. This gap inspired Cuddington to develop a new, freely accessible resource for graduate students and junior scientists around the world.
The project aims to create small, self-contained modules for learning on GitHub, a platform commonly used by students already, primarily to access open-source segments of code. Initially, it will start off with a few modules ranging in topics from dynamic documents to multivariate statistics to help learners familiarize themselves with new platforms, software, and various analyses.
“I want to renovate quantitative education for graduate students in biology,” says Cuddington. “I hope that this project becomes a centralized place that anyone around the world can use or contribute content, to help advance learner's quantitative skill sets.”
Leanne Racicot, laboratory instructor in the Department of Chemistry is developing a simple laboratory simulation tool to help teach students principles of liquid-liquid extraction and how to use this method to separate organic compounds. This project was inspired by feedback from her students last fall where they expressed that they were struggling to integrate their course knowledge into the lab after it moved online. Leanne wanted to integrate lab simulations in her organic chemistry lab to help students apply their knowledge but was not satisfied with the options currently available. Working together with Marie Lippens at the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL), they put together an application to fund a project to fill this gap in her labs.
“The goal is not to replace in-person labs, but to augment the experience of students whether learning remotely or on-campus,” says Leanne. “I am hoping it will bring back some fun and interactivity into remote labs!”
Leanne’s simulation tool will combine realistic images and videos from the on-campus laboratory, along with some visuals showing what is happening at the molecular scale during each step of the reaction. Students will be actively engaged in the simulation to make procedure design choices by choosing reagents to use. This project will be done in collaboration with at Western University and the University of Ottawa.
These projects are two of the 19 funded programs at Waterloo, and 394 funded throughout Ontario.
Congratulations to Kim and Leanne!