Hands On Lab Instruction Now Requires Remote Creativity

by, Kelly Kennedy and Victor Franco, Assistant Production Editor and Staff Writer

Manhattan College has implemented a hybrid mode of teaching this semester due to COVID-19, allowing students to complete classes both online and in-person. For students in STEM classes, remote learners have a new challenge of completing labs online instead of in a traditional hands-on learning experience.

Kelly Dagget-Nemesh, the director of general chemistry labs at the college, spoke on the challenges presented with online learning in a class setting meant to be taught in person.

“It is definitely different,  Dagget-Nemesh said. “I have challenges because I can’t see the students and so I don’t know what their struggles are. While as when they’re in-person, I can see what they’re struggling with and I can help them and I can talk with them one-on-one in class to let them know where they can improve.”

For students who are in-person, Dagget-Nemash finds teaching lab classes is still a challenge. With COVID-19 regulations, students lose much of the social aspect that she believes important.

“Part of teaching lab is that it is social,” Dagget-Nemesh said. “Coming to the lab is a social event, and we don’t have that. With a limited number of students in class it is very quiet, and students that are remote aren’t interacting as much either.”

The connection and social aspect of class is also lost online, as students are unable to work together or chat when watching an online lecture. There is no way for remote students to be there during class in real time, because there are no projectors or technology within the college’s laboratories. 

“I feel like there’s no connection remotely,” said Dagget-Nemesh. “I can send an  email, but it’s not the same. I miss the interaction with people,” 

Dagget-Nemesh held a survey for her students to get a feel of how students are adapting to the new way of teaching. She found that many students miss the social interaction, and feel they would learn better in-person.

“I did a brief survey, and a lot of the remote students had said that they wish they were on-campus to do in-person labs,” said Dagget-Nemesh. “It definitely is kind of boring to just watch a video.”

It is important to note that the department has made adjustments for students who are remote for the fall semester. Students who are learning from home were shipped their lab manuals with no extra cost for shipping. Students who are in-person also had to pay for their lab goggles, but the remote students did not.

Kevin Heredia is a freshman majoring in civil engineering who is currently enrolled in a laboratory style class for chemistry. He found it difficult to adjust to remote labs in replacement of a traditionally physical learning environment.

“I feel like I’m really missing out on the college experience, and the chemistry lab experience,” said Heredia.

Due to the pandemic, Heredia has to take a chemistry lab remotely through pre-recorded videos. Heredia explained that he is a visual learner who likes to physically be in class. He understands that the lab during COVID-19 is not physically available for every student, but he described the difficulty of learning in a lab class through videos. 

“I feel like if I was there learning hands-on, it would be another way of learning, and give me another understanding of chemistry because now remotely it’s really not working out,” Heredia said.

Many students have felt the same frustrations as Heredia. Khalil Ibrahim, another freshman civil engineering student, is also taking a chemistry lab remotely and has felt that the lab procedure has been very hectic. 

“The procedure has been kind of difficult because looking at videos of my lab teacher and doing the labs remotely doesn’t allow me to really take in what the teacher is saying and what is happening,” Ibrahim said. 

Ibrahim described that learning chemistry without physically being in the laboratory is challenging for him because it’s more difficult to absorb the new information. 

“You’re not doing the experiment yourself, so you can’t really process anything,” Ibrahim said.

Dagget-Nemesh hopes that by the Spring 2021 semester the college will be better adapted to fit hybrid-style labs.

“I’m hoping that next semester will be better,” she said. “I was told we are supposed to be moving into the new Higgins building, so I am hoping that we are able to have more in-person labs. Also, I think in the new labs there are projectors, so it is possible for the remote students to join us during the actual lab. That way we will be able to see and talk with them more.”