A couple of weeks ago there was a fire in my department. While it only directly affected one research lab, the whole building is currently closed due to safety reasons while the place is cleaned. The current timeline has the building closed for months (well into the fall semester).
We've already started to recover from the shock. Courses have been relocated, grad students near graduation have been sent to other institutions to finish their work and researchers have started to find friendly labs to work in.
However, we've been having problems with our undergraduate laboratory courses. These courses consist of three to five experiments, each of which takes several weeks to complete. The experiments require specialized equipment, which is now trapped in the building, and cannot be moved before the cleaning is complete. We are the only department in the university that has this specific equipment.
We are currently at a loss about what do to with the students that were taking these courses. Some options that have been proposed are:
- Give everyone an incomplete.
While this would seem logical, since the students will end up with only half of the course material, the courses are both a requisite to graduation and usually taken in the final year. This means that we would be pushing the graduation of many of our students. Additionally, we would not be able to handle the doubled demand for the courses when we can give the again.
- Try to complete the experiments in other departments
Another department at our university has some labs that run somewhat similar experiments. However, they would not be available for at least two more weeks (when their students are expected to finish their courses). By that time the semester will have less than a month left, not enough time to fully complete the remaining experiments. To do this, we would have to design new experiments that attempt to have the same teaching value and that can be completed in the new labs in limited time. Some of the professors running the lab courses are understandably reluctant to do this at short notice. Additionally, some of the experiments are pretty much unique to our department, so that it might be impossible to do them at the other labs.
- Give the students experimental data to analyze
My preferred option is to give the students experimental data, and have the students analyze it and file reports as if they had actually run the experiments. However, some professors argue that this would betray the point of the laboratories, which are meant to focus on the experimentation.
- Stop the courses and give everyone a grade based on the work completed so far
Some professors prefer the idea of just stopping the courses as they stand, and basing the grades on the work the students have completed so far. However, this is difficult since the labs are run in groups, and different groups have managed to complete differing amounts of work. Additionally, this is likely to affect students grades negatively, since historically their grades are boosted by the final exam, which they would not take in this situation. Additionally, I don't see how this is better than option 3, since stopping the course midway also leaves unmet several course objectives.
Are there really no better alternatives? Is there some way to allow the students to complete the lab courses without compromising its objectives?