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BioSLAM: Revamping Online Curriculum

COVID-19 changed norms worldwide and our daily habits and routines will continue to shift in the foreseeable future. From how we interact with our loved ones to our work, a lot has drastically changed; nevertheless, we continue to adapt and forge ahead. This is true of both educators and students that faced the challenges of online learning and made efforts to adapt to this drastic transition. The resilience of human beings is one of the most admirable things to come out of this pandemic.

The transition to online learning for institutions presented a multitude of challenges for students and educators alike. In previous years, the biology labs were an interactive environment where students developed a sense of community and belonging, while learning hands-on scientific research skills. These students build friendships and start to develop their scientific research skills. When SFSU was shut down mid-semester, we saw just how important this community was. With no online lab material prepared, students floundered through the spring 2020 semester. Everyone's goal was to simply get through this difficult time, that we thought would just be temporary. As COVID-19 continued to change the university landscape, SFSU realized something needed to be done to support our students through this new transition. In response, SFSU’s Biology Department made large strides in improving the quality of online learning by implementing an initiative to adapt laboratory courses to the virtual realm: BioSLAM.

BioSLAM was a remarkable joint effort between SFSU’s faculty, staff, graduate students, and others. We were fortunate enough to be a part of this initiative to improve the quality of education students would receive during the Fall 2020 semester. The major aims of this initiative were to design virtual lab activities that helped students understand the process of science, use quantitative reasoning, and understand the relationship between science and society.

Following these guidelines, we worked in teams to revamp preexisting lab manuals and create new activities students could complete online or at home. Truth be told, we were skeptical at first. How could laboratory courses possibly function online? The activities developed by our colleagues demonstrated the creativity and resourcefulness of scientists and educators and blew us away.

Students in courses influenced by BioSLAM have noted positive experiences through their online learning. The lab activities created aimed at fostering community via the online format created a means for students to engage in scientific discourse, which is typically difficult to do. It allows for meaningful discussions to happen and fosters a more immersive learning experience.

I think it might be worth putting a couple of examples or sentences of how we adapted the curriculum… like online modules for wet lab work, reading journal articles, outdoor activities, etc.

“...I love how my classmates are very open and talk a lot. It is way more than my other classes. The class is very interactive.”

In addition, some lab activities that were a product of BioSLAM were centered at exposing students to the diversity of the scientific community. This has massive implications on inspiring undergraduate students, particularly minority students, to see themselves as scientists.

“...the class provides me opportunities to learn and study different scientists in different fields of studies which give me a better understanding of the types of people that do science and give me inspiration to continue to study as well.”

Educators involved in the process have also noted positive influences in their teaching. Generating new ideas on how to facilitate student interactions online allowed instructors to have the necessary tools to effectively engage their students, making the process easier and enjoyable on both ends.

“...I’ve had some fun class discussions that I haven’t had in the past..”

Some educators felt that it made it easier to connect with students and gave them a means to build these meaningful connections. BioSLAM prompted instructors to truly empathize with students and center their well-being.

“ gave me the opportunity to connect with my students on a deeper level, especially through these hard times...I am now preparing to be not only a professor, but a mentor.”

Overall, BioSLAM introduced instructors and students to a more positive learning experience online as we continue to navigate the pandemic. It highlighted the resilience of these individuals in the face of unforeseen obstacles. We hope to see these efforts by SFSU’s Biology Department persist so that students continue to receive a high quality education and educators continue to develop new learning strategies aimed at creating a positive learning environment.

The efforts made by SFSU’s Biology Department had a huge impact on the quality of education that these students received. The need for online-specific course material was evident and BioSLAM demonstrated the value of taking the time and effort to pull together and create curriculum that better serves students from home. Hopefully other universities will consider devoting resources to improving curriculum to better fit the landscape we now find ourselves in.

For more information on BioSLAM, check this article from SFSU:


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