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Traba (bottom row, right) has been utilizing virtual software provided by the American Chemistry Society and YouTube to teach his labs. Photo courtesy of Dr. Christian Traba

 

Online learning has been a confusing time for both faculty and students at SPU.

Since the school’s closure in March, every department has had to reconfigure their teaching strategy and adapt to the usage of online learning tools in order to educate students during quarantine. 

Needless to say, the transition was awkward for many departments. It was especially difficult for STEM departments who not only had the task of moving their regular classes online but their labs as well. With a teaching format that essentially requires students to have a hands on experience, where does a STEM professor  begin?

Dr. Christian Traba, Associate Professor of Chemistry at SPU, found alternative means of giving his students a lab experience that he believes is as close to the real thing as possible.

“We've been having virtual labs; we've been using websites and virtual labs from ACS, which is the American Chemical Society. So, based off of their virtual labs, we've been making our own modifications,” said Traba. “We've essentially incorporated that into the lab. So, instead of them having to do mixtures in person, they're doing it virtually.” 

Along with these virtual labs, Traba also uses videos on YouTube to show students particular experiments and other procedures.These videos come from other college professors and from the Chemistry Department’s own YouTube channel that was made years ago.

According to Traba, his students seem to be adjusting well.

“I've been very open with my students. And I don't think that they have any complaints regarding my teaching and what I've been able to do. … I think things are going well for my students,” said Traba.

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Epstein regarded the experience as, “the difference between watching a cooking show and actually getting in the kitchen and making the recipe.” Photo courtesy of Saint Peter’s University Chemistry Department

 

Dr. Jessica Epstein, Department Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry, held much of the same sentiment. Epstein noted that although the regular curriculum transitioned smoothly thanks to the help of IT, labs were more of a “challenge”.

“What the instructors were doing was that they were going into the lab and demonstrating the experiment in real time in the lab so the students could see and it was familiar. But then we were not allowed on campus. So now it's been a little bit more challenging,” said Epstein.

Epstein also mentioned how the department at large has been relying on YouTube to teach their labs. She thought that some students would enjoy the online labs since it is a much more simplified version of a class that is usually 3-4 hours per session.

However, Epstein also acknowledged that many students still prefer regular labs.  

“Some students really love lab; they love [the experiments] and to get in there and do it themselves. So I think for those students it's kind of a flatter experience. It's not as three dimensional,”she said.

Epstein regarded the experience as, “the difference between watching a cooking show and actually getting in the kitchen and making the recipe.”

Adam Daoud, Junior and Chemistry major, is one of the students having to deal with online labs. He is in Traba’s Instrumental Analysis class.

Daoud said that, although he believes his professors are doing a great job of trying to capture the lab experience in an online setting, it just isn’t the same.

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“I'm actually understanding a bit more than I did in [person] for some of the classes,” said Daoud. Photo courtesy of Adam Daoud

 

“There are some instruments that are very much necessary in the chemistry field that you need to know how to use,” said Daoud. “You can't say that you know how to use it, if you've never actually touched it.”

Even so, Daoud is still pleased with how the department has handled online courses. He believed that due the nature of his major the transition would be much more difficult. 

“I feel like they're doing well. They are doing the most that they can,” Daud said.I was really surprised to see how [professors are] teaching I honestly thought it was going to go worse ... but I'm actually understanding a bit more than I did in [person] for some of the classes.”

Daoud’s only real complaint was the increased amount of homework being assigned. He said  some professors “bombard” him with more homework with the idea that since he is home, he has more time for work. 

Ultimately, Daoud was more concerned about the well being of his fellow classmates and professors.

“I just hope everybody's safe and that everybody's doing well. And, hopefully, we all pass this semester and forget about it,” said Daoud.

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