How do you engage students in real-world, authentic laboratories and studios, across disciplines, when they are forced to remain at home?

At a recent online event, two UTS academics who face these dilemmas presented their experiences designing and running laboratory sessions in a remote learning environment. In this blog, we summarise some key tips that you may be able to apply to your online subject to deliver an authentic and engaging experience for students studying remotely.

4 tips from Martin

Martin Bell, Lecturer at the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, suggests the key way to focus on students’ communication and critical thinking skills for problem-solving is to use and integrate technologies in creative ways. It’s also important to shift the emphasis from ourselves so we are focused on the student experience – how are they using their critical thinking and how do they communicate their results?

1. Signposting with educational videos

Experiments can be filmed using either sophisticated or simple filming equipment including smartphones. Branding videos with a UTS logo is a simple way of making videos of any type look more professional.

These videos can be developed in conjunction with UTS-supported tools and systems: in Canvas, use Zoom as a lock-back (reverse) camera, Quicktime for recording and then embed with Kaltura. The resulting short videos signpost welcome information and weekly check-ins as a key communication component for students.

2. Invest in non-costly equipment

Traditional textbooks can be a hefty expense for students – encourage investment in non-costly equipment for home use. Lab kits can be forwarded from faculties or students can purchase them from recommended providers.

3. Collect data on mobile phones

Explore new ways of collecting data. Everyday mobile phones can be used to collect data with Phyphox, an app that allows users to access data from the smartphone’s sensors. 

4. Use open educational resources

Virtual simulations are freely available online via PhET.

Watch the full video of Martin’s presentation (14 mins).

4 tips from Gavin

Gavin Paul, Senior Lecturer at the School of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, faces the challenge of delivering practical subjects such as Robotics in a remote learning environment. He highlights having technically competent students and supportive lab staff as a big advantage.

1. Electronic hardware boards – the new textbooks

Instead of buying textbooks, students can invest in electronic hardware boards. Students can log onto these electronic boards remotely, though it requires physical assistance from the physical lab.

2. Communication in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams can be used for communication and collaboration between students and tutors – this tool supports the mixed mode classes and proved positive for tutor engagement. It’s ideal as a space for students to ask questions.

3. Share experiences in Zoom

Zoom features can be utilised to enhance the learning experience – for example, students can use screen share to show their code, circuits and simulations. Breakout rooms in Zoom are an important tool when there’s a lack of immediate feedback or engagement, as students can be initially hesitant to interact or be on camera. Doing a poll in Mentimeter is another strategy that can help alleviate this.

All Zoom sessions are recorded, but are only accessible to Grant for standardisation purposes.

4. Project work in virtual reality environments

Remote labs students can interact with each other in project work via virtual reality environments with software such as Unity. Simulation groups could also blend with non-virtual groups.

The use of tools and technology to enable a better remote learning experience is a learning experience in itself. For Gavin, it’s a matter of learning from others and understanding there isn’t necessarily a perfect solution.

Watch the full video presentation from Gavin (16 mins).

What methods have you been using in this period of remote teaching to deliver a more engaging online experience for students?

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