COVID-19 has challenged the traditional classroom set up – solutions and workarounds have emerged from all corners. One LabArchives instructor has designed a data generator that helps to ensure experimental design and independent analysis remain at the core of STEM courses even when students aren’t on campus.

Created by Gareth Denyer, Professor of Biochemical Education at the University of Sydney, this data generator is based around experiments that use 96-well plates. These plates, as seen below, are used in several scientific fields and feature on nearly every news broadcast these days. To give you a sense of what this data generator can do we caught up with Gareth who has used it to support practical classes with over 600 students.

96-well plates feature in many COVID-19 news bites.

“The data generator ensures that each student gets a completely individual, unique dataset which is the product of their own experimental design” Gareth said, “This keeps everything very vibrant and no one can cheat.”  He’s using the data generator to simulate an experiment that has real impacts – students must determine ethanol concentration in blood samples using a plate reader based assay to decide if subjects should hypothetically be charged with drunk driving offences. The data generator and everything you need to run this experiment with your own students can be found in Lab Builder, LabArchives free course content library.

The spaces in the data generator represent the 96 wells. The sample code goes in the upper cells of each row and the volume to be added goes in the lower cells of each row.

Gareth’s data generator, however, can be used with any experiment that involves a 96-well plate, for example, ELISA or qPCR assays. “It’s a really useful complement to online demonstrations, simulations and videos. Those provide insight into process but alone they don’t give students the opportunity to develop trouble-shooting and discernment skills by making mistakes and talking about about what is really happening as they would in a real lab situation.”

By using the data generator, instructors can provide students with authentic learning opportunities regardless of location. During the experiment students must design and set up their 96 plate. As the experiment progresses they will either reap the rewards of a solid design or suffer the consequences of poor design decisions. In the blood ethanol practical mentioned above students report on their calculations, the robustness of the data and accuracy of the techniques to determine if the subjects in question should be convicted.

While the situation is of course simulated, the experiment gives students a chance to evaluate and understand how data driven decisions can have real life impacts.  “We know that this approach can achieve quite a few learning outcomes but I think the real opportunity is the potential to work with other instructors who have practical courses that are now online. We can use this tool to fit their goals,” Gareth said. Anything that uses a 96 plate is fair game.

To access the blood ethanol practical and hundreds of other free Lab Builder experiments, sign up for a free LabArchives account.

To modify the data generator for your purposes email gareth.denyer@sydney.edu.au

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