Difficulties in course of time in an individual’s span of life or natural or social context seeks for makeshift rescues followed by out of the box discoveries/inventions as long term solution. The ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic has jeopardized all traditional chores in each and every operation essential for individual life and society as a whole, forcing mankind to look for alternatives which protect people and their communities. In the sphere of education, it is no exception. Delivery of education within a class room having real presence between an experienced individual (teacher) and a learner (child, young or aged individual) was preferred to date, though distance mode and online delivery were picking up gradually mostly in a complementary role. There were widespread doubt in the complete acceptance of online qualification. The lethally contagious Covid- 19 pandemic has made the class room gathering impossible and has forced to adopt the online delivery of education as the sole and safest method of delivery in order to keep teaching-learning process on-the-go. The global teaching community has whole heartedly accepted the challenges of online delivery of teaching and are trying their best to contribute in the making of competent, knowledgeable, skilful, and above all socially empathetic future citizens.
There is no doubt that with the might of science and technology, human species will overcome sooner and later this darkest phase appeared in front of the civilization. So in the post Covid-19 era, a pertinent question needs to be asked whether the delivery of education will revert dominantly to class room, or exclusively continue as on-line or as a mix of both (hybrid). One of the quickest method to be sought by education administrator to know the efficacy of the delivery is to make few questionnaire, distribute among students, and asked to rate the given choices and check their satisfaction level. To the best of my guess, students will give positive feedback instead of being critical to the core of their new learning experience, because this method is less hassle to the student communities like every day commuting to the school/college/university, not being too attentive and disciplined as required in a class room, freedom of leaving and joining in the course of lecture, and over all comfort of staying at home etc. Of course they would miss daily hang out sessions with their close friends, but with the menace of COVID- 19 and its high infection rates, they would be willing to sacrifice their time with friends in order to reduce the risk of endangering their life. These observations of mine has been reflected by several studies conducted with proper research procedures and standards pre-COVID- 19. All of these studies have indicated that there is no significant difference between students learning in the online and traditional classroom environments (1, 2, and 3). And depending on the result of these studies, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have been introduced in the year 2012 (4) and are destined to play a fruitful role in higher education (5, 6) (Fig. 1).
Now let us analyze the positive observations from a critical angle. The studies which have been referred here or usually taken up for experiments to observe the students’ satisfaction level are mostly from non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs or some discipline from STEM program like computer, software, mathematics, statistics etc. But these programs are not linked to wet laboratory activities. In courses like Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Engineering which are wet laboratory based and where practical experiences are equally or even more important than just theory based learnings, are usually delivered in institutional owned physical laboratory (sometime coined as traditional laboratory) and experiments are performed in presence of a trained person e.g.; teacher and lab technician. Nowadays, new types of wet laboratory pedagogical approaches like Home laboratory, Virtual laboratory, Remote laboratory (Satellite laboratory) etc. are gradually being tested as alternative to traditional laboratory approach. And with the sudden spike of online education at the backdrop of Covid–19 menace, some of the educational institution mostly located in the developed world, are trying the Home laboratory operation where students are asked to purchase readymade kits (included chemicals and procedures) and perform the experiment at home. But a key question which arises about this practice is the safety issues to perform experiments at home using chemicals which are hazardous, not environment friendly, and most importantly in the absence of physically close supervision by an experienced person, who can guide and take over if a mishap occurs. Moreover, is it possible to perform all kinds of experiments in a home environment? Remote laboratories are equivalent to the traditional laboratory environment where real equipment are used but those are situated at a significant distance from the learner. There is considerable research that indicates that the effectiveness of remote labs is equivalent to that of traditional face-to-face labs (7). However, lack of experience of setting up of experiment, instruments and spot on trouble shooting capabilities which are important in students’ training, are couple of key disadvantages in this approach.
The Virtual Laboratory is an interactive environment for conducting simulated experiments where real experiment are recreated in a controlled setting with the help of computational programming. Virtual laboratory can also be accessed from a remote place. In a very recent study conducted by Goudsouziar et. al. (8) in comparing the student’s experience of performing cell and molecular biology experiments between live and computer simulated virtual laboratory showed that the overall knowledge score of the simulation-only students was significantly less than those of the students who performed both the live and simulated laboratories. It indicates that the live laboratory and computer simulation promote greater learning in comparison to the simulation alone. Similar experiments regarding the student’s best learning experience through a hybrid pedagogy of traditional live lab and simulated virtual lab were also conducted with similar results. (9, 10). Therefore, implementation of virtual laboratory as an exclusive substitution for programs having wet laboratory exercises will appear detrimental to student’s holistic learnings and skill development.
In conclusion, practice of on-line teachings should not be completely abandoned as experience of students for on line mode of teachings has come positive. It should be taken as opportunity to mix and match with traditional teachings in a reasonable ratio for the courses where application of wet laboratory experience are not required. For courses integrated with wet laboratory, a hybrid pedagogy of live and virtual laboratory will be the best. The newly adopted and further evolved pedagogies will help prepare students for a more challenging world as it looms in future.
- Cole, M. T., Shelley, D. J., & Swartz, L. B., Online instruction, e-learning, and student satisfaction: A three year study. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 2014, 15(6).
- Semih C., Sibel S., Deniz O., Determining student satisfaction in distance education courses.
Procedia Computer Science, 2017, 120, 529–538.
- Paul J. and Jefferson F., A Comparative Analysis of Student Performance in an Online vs. Faceto-Face Environmental Science Course From 2009 to 2016. 2019, Frontiers in Computer Science 1:7.
- Deneen P. J., We are all to blame for Moocs. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2013, June 3.
- Shirky, C., "MOOCs and Economic Reality". 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8 July.
- Goudsouzian L.K., Riola P., Ruggles K., Gupta P., Mondoux M. A., Integrating cell and molecular biology concepts: Comparing learning gains and self-efficacy in corresponding live and virtual undergraduate laboratory experiences. 2018, Biochemistry Molecular Biology Education 46, 361-372.
- Ross M. B., John M. T., Larry W. S., Veronica S., Tracey A. H. T., Student perceptions of online and in-person microbiology laboratory experiences in undergraduate medical education. 2020, Medical Education Online, 25, 1710324.
- Rebecca K. S., Virtual labs: a substitute for traditional labs? International Journal of Developmental Biology, 2003, 47, 231-236.
Dr. Susanta Pahari is a Professor of Biochemistry in Skyline University Nigeria. He has a PhD in Biochemistry from University of Calcutta, India.