In traditional lectures a year group of 150 students is divided in two and they take turns to go to a lab which can accommodate 75 students. The instructor has a microscope connected to a camera and demonstrates each example while students follow using their microscopes. The adapted online labs use a programme called C-slide which is a virtual microscope. The lecturer records the demonstration in Panopto and the videos are uploaded to Canvas. Students follow the demonstration and if they need clarification can ask questions using the Canvas discussion forum. After the session students can access the C-slide programme to see more examples, or more details of the examples they have covered.
Using the C-slide program ensures that all students are looking at the same slide instead of individual ones. This brings a homogeneity to the process which was missing from face-to-face labs. It can be argued that introduction to variation and anomaly is a good thing, but this can be compensated for in the practice section where students are encouraged to enter C-slide on their own to view more examples. The equipment used in online learning is more reliable than that used in lab-based practice. In the event of the instructor’s microscope breaking, lecturers needed to resort to PowerPoint, but as C-Slide is virtual, there is no chance of mechanical failure. Also the online lab equivalent has no physical limitation, so all 150 students can be taught at once. This halves tutor time in the lab, allowing the tutors more time to answer questions.
Although students have access to a forum in which they can ask questions, this is not widely used. This may be because students do not want their posts to be seen by a large number of their peers. Tutors are considering the use of anonymous polling in future lab work to ensure that concepts are fully understood. Live question and answer sessions with smaller groups of students is another option that may be used to encourage more communication.