An example of online delivery of practical content in the Faculty of Sciences

Practical experiences in the laboratory are the key to connecting theory with application and context for students in science.

When COVID19 led to the cancellation of all practicals Dr Beth Loveys in the School of Agriculture Food and Wine found a creative solution to replace the practical experience of her Foundations of Plant Science course, a core course at Level II in the Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology and Bachelor of Agricultural Science degrees.

Beth combined lecture content with video demonstrations, screen recording and knowledge checking quizzes to deliver a virtual practical for students in this course.

Here Beth describes how she changed her approach to teaching one of the fundamental concepts in the course - plant water transport.

Beth live streamed lectures to expose students to the relevant theory of plant water transport and enhanced this with demonstrations of the practicalities of measuring plant water status using the document camera function in the lecture theatre.  Formative in-lecture quiz questions were designed to get students thinking about what they had just seen and heard. Students could engage synchronously or asynchronously. The lecture was followed up with an online practical undertaken in the MyUni course.

Students utilising two video inputs

In this course, later year students are engaged as Senior Peer Mentors. Drawing on their experience having completed the practical in 2019, these students filmed the practical components of the laboratory session that the 2020 students were missing out on and provided audio narration to explain the methodology they were demonstrating. Having Peer Mentors rather than academic staff demonstrate the practical skills was essential to creating an authentic practical class experience.

As Senior Peer Mentor Lucas Allen explains: ‘It was great to know that I was helping the second year students with their prac. It also helped to refresh my own knowledge of how to correctly use the pressure chamber.’

Students demonstrating Pressure Chamber

Third year student Lucas Allen and fourth year student Matt Howard demonstrate use of the Scholander Pressure Chamber

Beth provided students with a class data set, used screen recording to further explain the data and demonstrate the required calculations. Students could check their knowledge with unlimited attempts at a practice quiz before completing the assessment task.

As Beth explains, ‘It is important to be aware that students may require more support when undertaking online tasks that replace face to face practicals due to the lack of experiential learning. This may be particularly apparent for kinaesthetic learners.’ Something that is backed up by student feedback, as one commented: “Watching the video made the prac make so much more sense than just being given the data because I could understand the process.”

Story by Dr Beth Loveys, Lecturer School of Agriculture, Food & Wine and member of the Adelaide Education Academy.

Tagged in faculty of science, science, beth loveys, covid19, online delivery