Kim Edwards was working towards med school when she took on a part time teaching job. As it turned out, that job changed her path entirely. She’s now in her nineteenth year at University of California Irvine (also her alma mater) where she teaches general chemistry and several other courses.
With over 1000 students in gen chem alone, Kim sees herself as something of an educational “puppeteer.” She defines learning objectives, designs course material, instructs, manages 40 TAs and oversees student success – all at the same time. Technology helps her keep the show on the road.
Kim decided to take her courses digital with LabArchives in 2009, which was still early days for online teaching. Now though, possibly more than ever, she’s pretty glad she did.
Kim talked us through how working digitally saves her time, helps keep everyone organized and how to make the switch during these hectic times….
Forget rigid course materials
Kim publishes and distributes her lab manual within LabArchives which allows her to modify it whenever she needs to. In the past, she’d have to wait to make changes until the publisher or the UCI bookstore released a new edition. As a digital publication in LabArchives, Kim’s lab manual is completely flexible. She can even control what parts of it students can access throughout the term.
Keep tabs on everyone’s progress, regardless of location
For Kim, the biggest benefit of going digital has been the ability to oversee TAs’ work and control what course content students see and when. LabArchives records all TA and student activity and Kim can watch both parties progress over time. In the past when a student had a question, Kim would usually tell them to come see her in her office. With LabArchives she can pull up student work at any time and offer feedback in real-time.
When we caught up with Kim she was already working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that the way she uses LabArchives “hasn’t changed that much since the corona virus started.” She’s had to redefine her teaching goals and modify her course content, but has been able to leverage LabArchives features to do it.
As Kim said, “Teaching a lab online isn’t anyone’s first choice.” There are more than a few creative ways to make it work, however. Kim had her TAs record videos of gen chem experiments before UCI closed campus. She has distributed those video files to her students along with podcasts, voiceovers, YouTube videos and other interactive content to mimic lab work. Activating your lab manual in this way, Kim says, is crucial when it comes to designing an online course. In her words, “All these different files just upload so nicely in LabArchives and students can reliably access it all from home.”
Keep a record and keep everyone accountable
Kim has been teaching general chemistry with LabArchives for quite some time. As a result, she has a record of past student work and has used old student data to create assignments and quizzes for her now remote students. By randomizing the data students get, Kim and her TAs can police student work and deter cheating even in the remote classroom.
Office hours are a key component of Kim’s large courses. They are an opportunity for focused, individualized feedback and help. While Kim and her TAs aren’t able to meet with students in person right now, they’re still able to connect via LabArchives and Zoom. Students can access their respective TA’s Zoom office hours from within LabArchives where Kim has embedded meeting links and a Google calendar / sign up sheet.
Don’t get discouraged
“Recognize that things might go wrong”, as you take your course online, “but remember that it’s OK,” Kim said. You can always try again when you’re working digitally. And don’t forget that the LabArchives team is here to help. When Kim started teaching digitally, she appreciated how she could call or email our team for help and get a quick response. That’s still our standard ten years on.
If you need help taking your course online send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget about Lab Builder, our course content library which contains experiments, projects and assignments from real instructors like Kim. Set up a free instructor account here to check out experiments Kim uses in her course mentioned above as well as experiments that have been designed specifically for online instruction!