I am a STEM teaching assistant. I know some professors were using physical class materials in engineering classes. How do you think they should respond to COVID-19-forced online education and still ensure the quality of their classes?

It is a purposefully broad question. I was curious to hear what you think about the near term or futuristic/ideal approaches that could change STEM education.


3 Answers 3


Use video demonstrations of each section of the experiment and the results and use those for discussion.

  • Using videos alone is like to put students to sleep. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 17:03
  • @AnonymousPhysicist then send them all a personal mobile lab... You must have the budget...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 20:16
  • My comment was to emphasize that the "discussion" you mentioned is necessary. I voted up your answer. Your response seems hostile. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 22:18
  • @AnonymousPhysicist then perhaps a better explanation of what you meant would have been a good start. I took a break from this stack due to the quality of comments - perhaps I am not ready yet.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 22:28
  • I think the upvote is the best explanation. My main concern is that people won't comprehend that the first three words are not the full answer. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 22:33

It seems that pretty much everything must now be done in virtual space. And, of course, this is hard to arrange in the short term. But in addition to videos, there is the possibility of software to provide hands-on simulation in some cases. It might be worth the effort in some fields to pair up (virtually) with a good programmer who can build quick simulations for student use. These can be refined later.

The really hard fields, though, are things like training surgeons, but even there, simulation can get you partway home.

Some fields, maybe physics, already have a lot of simulation software that is normally used. So some people have experience building such things. See if your university has someone or can find someone to help.

  • I don't think it is realistic to develop online hands-on simulations of say, labwork excercises ad hoc for use during the ongoing semester. A neighboring group was once developing virtual instruments (including this: chemgapedia.de/vsengine/vlu/vsc/de/ch/3/anc/croma/…), and that was a whole research project (involving also a whole lot of experimental work to obtain output for variour correct and incorrect instrument settings). Almost purely mathematical and not too complicated simulations may be doable, though. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 23:10
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX, in the short term you don't need a polished app. But a lot of things taught to undergraduates have fairly simple structure that can be captured in a meaningful way. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A chemist, say, working with a programmer might be able to put together something in a reasonable amount of time - just to get started. Good videos take a lot of effort too. Java applets used to be a good tool for that, but, alas, have gone away. I've built some, actually for a similar purpose.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 23:20
  • Buffy, I'm not worrying about polishing an app, I'm thinking of the basic data for the app missing. Unless, of course, with unpolished you mean that the app could include cartoon-like hand-drawn outcomes. (I'm a kind of chemist who does a whole lot of programming so I think I have an idea what can realistically be implemented). Simulations on a more abstract level are often easier - but they are even less a replacement for the labwork. (In that institute, students do the virtual instrument first and then the real: the virtual can save expensive repairs, but cannot provide the hand/craft part.. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 23:50
  • ... of the labwork training). I'd probably argue for a) high abstraction/easy simulations for the lecture material (or maybe to be created as student practicum if these students have some programming background) b) videos of experiments and possibly checking out what experiments may be done by the students with "household supplies" c) preparing to run a whole lot of labwork practicum (morning/afternoon shifts, ...) once the students attend again in person. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 23:54

implement STEM classes that require hands-on lab experience in online learning platforms

You cannot do that. "Hands on lab" and "in online learning platforms" are directly opposing goals.

How do you think they should respond to COVID-19-forced online education and still ensure the quality of their classes?

Pandemics are not fair and suggesting that we can make them fair is dishonest and cruel.

Simulation, computation, and theory assignments are all good mitigations. Do not expect to end up with the same quality. Teach the hands-off content better.


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