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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Is there a disadvantage to taking online labs?

Aeden Soland

With some classes at the University of Arizona being online for the fall semester, the Daily Wildcat has some tips to help you succeed.

Laboratories are offered fully online, live-online and flex in-person. There are no labs that are allowed to be fully in person. At most, six students and one instructor are allowed in the lab at the same time, which means most classes follow a laboratory rotation of splitting the class up into four sections and having the student only attend the lab every other week on a rotation.

As the University of Arizona has changed many of its lab courses to be online, it is clear there are mixed feelings among students. Students may view online labs as easier, as they do not have to physically attend class, while other students may believe it is harder, as work has to be done more individually and without physically getting to experience the concepts.

The first aspect to consider is whether or not online versions of labs are as effective in absorbing concepts as in-person labs. Brian Zacher teaches four, three-hour lab courses a week. In his opinion, he does not believe that is as effective as in-person options. 

When teaching his courses of qualitative analysis and physical chemistry, there is a lot of hands-on learning. Zacher specifically stated that “chemistry is a hands-on science/practice, which requires competence in a number of methods and techniques — which can only be developed through in-person practice.”

Another professor, Hilary Lease, teaches a number of physiology courses. One of her courses — physiology 202 — has a required lab component. Since her other two classes do not, she is able to compare just how effective the lab portion of a class can be and how it impacts a student’s understanding of the course material. Lease said she believes online labs can be just as effective as in-person labs if thought out precisely. 

Laura Van Dorn is a chemistry professor who teaches chemistry 101, which has a laboratory component — chemistry 102. 

“In-person and online labs focus on the same concepts but may deliver outcomes with slightly different skill sets,” Van Dorn said. “The key advantage of online instruction is flexibility within the curriculum.”

Each professor has their own opinion of the impact in-person labs can have, yet they have acknowledged there are advantages to each style of lab, whether it ranges from the student’s personal preference to the rigor that each option provides.

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Van Dorn said she believes the “primary advantage of in-person labs for students is the ability to practice hands-on techniques with physical instrumentation and real chemicals.” On the other hand, she also said there is much more flexibility with online courses. 

As for Lease, she said in-person labs and online courses are different, yet they complement each other. An in-person version can emphasize more hands-on activities such as dissections, experiments and models. 

“Online labs emphasize comprehension, but also include at-home dissections and at-home experiments,” Lease said. “I think all lab modalities are really well developed this semester for our course.”

As Zacher’s classes total up to 12 hours in the lab per week, he understands how crucial having that profound understanding of mechanisms and reactions are. He also commented that it is possible for online courses to be easier in workload, yet students are not exposed to crucial aspects of science. Zacher provided a thorough explanation as he works predominantly with chemistry labs. 

Lease claims that the online version of physiology 202 is still effective in teaching students materials, and it’s still a challenging course.

“I wouldn’t say that there is an advantage to being online,” she said. “Students are expected to know the same material.”

Lastly is the notion of if students should wait to take labs in-person during a different semester. It may be the student’s preference to take labs online, but having a professor’s opinion may aid students to make the best decision for themselves.

Van Dorn and Lease both agreed that it is probably not necessary to wait to enroll in an in-person course. There are a lot of resources available to students, and Lease even commented she believes each student in her physiology 202 course was able to get into their preferred laboratory modality.

Keep in mind that each laboratory course is set up in a different way. There are simply some experiments that cannot be replicated or simulated precisely online. Thus, some courses have transitioned more easily to an online version as it fits the curriculum better than other courses.

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