Biology, chemistry labs adapt to changes amidst pandemic

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 Written by Geoffry Fowler

For students in the Biology and Chemistry departments, fulfilling lab requirements with COVID-19 safety precautions takes more labor and resources than in previous years, according to Keith Snyder, chairman of the Biology Department.

“In a typical lab [pre-COVID-19], we had 30 people. Now, we have 15,” Snyder said. “Instead of the students coming to the front to get supplies, we now have stations set up.”

According to Snyder, each lab group has three students who will stay in their designated spots for the whole semester. Each group is separated by 12 to 15 feet of space with enough space in each group for social distancing, Snyder said.

 “This is the best way we could figure out how to run the labs and still meet the needs of the COVID situation,” Snyder said. 

Similarly, Brent Hamstra, chairman of the Chemistry Department, said that they had to limit their labs by half the normal occupancy. 

“General chemistry labs have 14 students maximum, and organic chemistry labs have 12 students maximum, who still work in pairs to work faster and develop teamwork skills,” Hamstra said. 

According to Snyder, labor for both student workers and professors has increased for the Biology Department to help prepare for the laboratories. 

“A year ago, we would bring our book and a PowerPoint for a lecture, and we could interact with the students. Now, we have to get the PowerPoint up, get the mic up, get Zoom running, see if the students on Zoom have any problems and connect. And, if there is a quiz, [the stress] is that much more. The biology professors are tired,” Synder said. 

Hamstra said there is also extra stress because professors have to put in more hours for teaching labs. 

“If a professor is teaching four 2-hour labs instead of two 3-hour labs, that’s an extra 2 hours in lab each week,” Hamstra said, “Those hours add up and make it harder to get grading, office hours, lecture preparation and other aspects of our work done as quickly.” 

The stress factor in the Chemistry Department, according to Hamstra, is that the students are not getting the full lab experience and are not learning the course material as they desired. 

“We can’t just cut content as easily as some folks seem to think we can,” Hamstra said.

Sophomore biology and Spanish major John Burdick said professors have been finding ways to adapt to the changes. He added that he prefers the new methods that his professors have implemented, and that his confidence has increased going into his labs because he feels well-prepared.

“The professors tend to record videos ahead of time,” Burdick said. “You can get all the instructions ahead of time to prepare for the lab beforehand, so you will be spending less time in the lab than you normally would.”

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