Collaboration and innovation key to delivering molecular science labs online to students

March 30, 2020

Laboratory classes are a vital part of any science program. Arizona State University's transition to online at the end of spring break required an innovative, collaborative response by the School of Molecular Sciences to move nearly 200 lab sections online in just four days.

“We have nearly 4,000 students taking our lab classes,” said Beatriz Smith, School of Molecular Sciences lab manager, “and preparing these labs to be delivered online in such a short amount of time was a true team effort.” School of Molecular Sciences Instructor Timothy Lamb is recorded as he prepares an online instructional lab for students. Download Full Image

Several large universities in other states stopped classes for one or two weeks while making the transition to full online delivery. ASU did not.

Graduate students, teaching assistants, staff and faculty ended spring break early to answer the call to move recitations, lectures and labs online.

Preparing to deliver labs to 2,500 students in freshman-level General Chemistry and 1,000 students in sophomore-level Organic Chemistry classes was not trivial. Faculty and teaching assistants filmed lab experiments, which were then edited and uploaded onto various platforms for student access. Lab videos allow students to see how laboratory experiments are performed safely, as well as how laboratory equipment is set up and used properly while providing data needed for their assignments.

Upper-division biochemistry labs presented additional challenges that were creatively turned into opportunities.

“Biochemistry experiments tend to have a lot of incubation/waiting time,” noted School of Molecular Sciences Principal Lecturer Scott Lefler.

In some experiments, the time of a reaction or how long a process takes is significant information. In putting the final video together, the time stamps of the videos indicated the elapsed time between steps of the experiment, capturing this information for students. Additionally, the time it took for processes to occur allowed for innovative recording.

“With a lot of coordination of start times, we staggered the experiments so that I was constantly moving from one experiment to another, capturing about five to 10 minutes of video at a time. Ultimately, we were able to coordinate such that in about 4.5 hours we recorded the video footage for four different lab experiments.”  

The online labs are a success; in the first week there were nearly 8,000 views.

“Students are using the videos and data we provide them to submit their assignments individually, which they are used to doing by now,” said School of Molecular Sciences Instructor Tim Lamb. “We have our first round of assignments coming in this week, but so far it looks like everyone is watching the videos at least once and there were no major issues.”

Video by the School of Molecular Sciences

Instruction is supplemented by online discussion boards staffed and monitored by teaching assistants and faculty who help students with any questions they have. Students are encouraged to maintain communication with their lab group to make sure assignments are completed and submitted on time.

Keeping things running smoothly requires constant attention. Weekly meetings are held via Zoom by faculty and staff to monitor and assess the current labs, as well as to prepare for future labs.

“We ask students to check their ASU email frequently,” Smith said, “and also to provide feedback so that we can improve the next round of labs.” 

It has definitely been a team effort.

“I really need to give credit to my TAs on this," Lefler said, "as they came in to the lab ready to go and did an excellent job keeping the experiments moving and narrating what was being done." 

“I am so proud of our team of faculty, instructors, graduate students and staff who managed one of the largest restructuring of our teaching mission in recent history in just four short days," said Ian Gould, interim director of the School of Molecular Sciences. "Lab courses are the most challenging of all to put online, and the different and inventive ways this was pulled off so quickly speaks to the creativity and dedication of our teams.” 

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


From ASU to Harvard and back again, one alumnus shares his academic journey

At 20 years old, Lennon Audrain has earned his associate, bachelor's and master's degrees

March 30, 2020

In the last four years, Lennon Audrain has earned an associate degree in elementary education from Rio Salado College, a bachelor’s degree in classics (concentrating in Latin) from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

But that’s not all: This semester, he’ll graduate with a second master’s degree in technology and education from Harvard University. And this fall, he’ll return to ASU to pursue his PhD in education policy. Audrain’s resume would be impressive for any individual, but it’s particularly striking because he is only 20 years old.  Lennon Audrain Photo by Michele Hinz Download Full Image

Audrain said his motivation to excel academically stems from the support he received from his parents, both Sun Devils themselves. 

“My dad and mom met at ASU,” he said. “My mom grew up in Thailand, and she came here to get her degree in accounting from ASU. And my dad got his bachelor’s degree in agribusiness, also from ASU.”

Growing up, Audrain was part of an interfaith household — his mom is Buddhist while his dad is Catholic.

“My whole life, I was bouncing between those religions,” he said. “I think part of what made me a ‘high achiever’ is the multiple perspectives on life that I got from that.”

While his parent’s support has helped him in his academic success, Audrain also credits his own persistence, which began in high school while he was attending Brophy College Preparatory in central Phoenix.

At the same time as he was going to school at Brophy, Audrain enrolled in classes at Rio Salado College with the goal of earning an associate degree in elementary education before he graduated high school.

“That meant I had to do field experiences in real classrooms in addition to my coursework at Brophy,” he said. “I ended up being awarded my degree five months before graduating from high school. Since I had 64 credits walking into ASU, and since I knew I wanted to teach Latin, I decided that I was going to be a Latin major.”

After graduating from Brophy and Rio Salado, Audrain came to ASU, where he was able to earn his bachelor’s degree in classics from The College’s School of International Letters and Cultures

“I started taking Latin (at ASU) because I thought I was going to be a priest,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I had such a great Latin teacher at Brophy, and I knew education is what I want to do — why not continue studying it at ASU and we’ll see where it takes me?’”

Audrain said he’s grateful ASU offers a curriculum, like that found in the School of International Letters and Cultures, that focuses on the importance of language.

“I’m really happy that ASU has a classics department, and I think they need to continue to have one,” he said. “It plays an important role in how we think about the development of our civilization and of the United States.”

After graduating from The College, Audrain continued his pattern of balancing multiple responsibilities and interests, this time taking his passion for education and language to Harvard, where he also currently teaches Latin and Spanish at a local high school.

Audrain has his next academic plans figured out — returning to ASU for his doctoral degree — but said his plans for the future are unwritten. 

“I would love to someday be the national director of Educators Rising, I think that’d be a really sweet gig,” he said. “But honestly, I’m just really excited to see where all of this takes me.”

With the many opportunities Audrain has had a chance to experience over the last few years, he’s learned a thing or two about the importance of support and offers this advice to new and current undergraduate students: “Find your team — the individuals who will mentor and support you throughout your academic and work journey — and don't be afraid to ask for help from them. The worst they could say is ‘No.’”

Audrain has gained substantial knowledge in the classroom, but some of the insight he’s found most valuable has come from the relationships he’s built in and out of the classroom.

“It’s the people around you that will be invaluable in helping you to answer questions and to create solutions to the most pressing problems,” he said.

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences