Chemistry at-home lab kits keep students on track

To help chemistry students complete hands-on lab requirements while transitioned to remote instruction due to COVID-19, the Department of Chemistry will provide home lab kits to students taking selected undergraduate chemistry courses during the Summer 2020 term.

“Given the current ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order in Washington state, we revisited the idea of lab kits as an alternative for in-person labs. Today’s kits have increased in sophistication and are able to replicate many of the most essential face-to-face experiments,” said Greg Crouch, clinical professor of chemistry and associate chair for undergraduate studies.

Five chemistry courses will utilize lab kits alongside a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, lab simulations and other visualization tools to round out the student experience during summer instruction. The courses are CHEM 101, 102, 105, 106, and 345 .

Greg Crouch.
Greg Crouch

In order to determine what kits to provide to students, chemistry faculty compared student learning outcomes from existing lab experiments to the experiments possible with kits, attempting to best duplicate the in-person experience. They also worked with WSU Global Campus to help determine ideal kit suppliers.

“Our goal is to replicate the face-to-face experience for our students at home,” said Crouch. “Finding quality kits and other materials was essential, as physical science instruction relies heavily on experimentation to teach essential concepts. We carefully selected very sophisticated experiments that couple with the course student learning outcomes.”

Before the start of the term, chemistry teaching assistants will film “pre-lab” video lectures, as well as an “unpacking” video, explaining the learning objectives of the lab and providing guidance for conducting lab activities. In order to ensure safety, no hazardous materials will be provided in the kits or used in at-home experiments.

Preparing for this new form of instruction was a team effort that stretched across the WSU system and illustrates WSU’s overall commitment to taking care of its students, said Crouch.

“Chemistry faculty and staff in Vancouver, Tri-Cities, and Pullman have done an extraordinary job preparing for summer instruction using lab kits,” he said. “In particular, Steven ‘Cole’ Mercer, one of our instructional support staff, has been invaluable in working with the lab kit companies to create suitable kits based on course goals.”

“Ultimately, we want to enable students to stay on track and complete their prerequisite courses, and in doing so, maintain their time to degree. No matter what is going on in the world today, we will do whatever it takes to help our students succeed.”

The chemistry department hopes to continue offering distance learning opportunities to WSU students, in addition to traditional in-person courses.

“Our fundamental goal is to provide an excellent instructional experience while also providing flexibility for students who may wish to complete some first- and second-year chemistry courses online, even after the current pandemic recedes,” he said. “I think we are living in a new world, and to remain relevant, we must adapt to the needs of our current and future students. With technology so quickly advancing, we may soon be able to more closely model laboratory exploration, even in upper division courses.”

By Jeff Willadsen, Academic Outreach and Innovation, for WSU Insider