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Science and Innovations

Hands-On Science Teachers Struggle With Switch To Online Classes


Northern Arizona University has moved to online-only classes for the remainder of the spring semester in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, the transition has been especially difficult for science classes that rely on labs and field work.

Several thousand students enroll in NAU’s undergraduate chemistry labs every semester. Lab manager Malia Davis says it’s impossible to replicate experiments in an online format. "All of the sudden now we’re dealing with a huge array of problems, not just: how do we get these labs online, but also how do we deal with students who don’t have access to Internet now?" she says. 

Davis says she’s giving students individualized datasets to analyze, as well as computer simulations of experiments that are free and don’t take up too much bandwidth. But she’s concerned students who enroll in chemistry next semester won’t have direct experience with the techniques.

Carol Chambers teaches wildlife ecology and reports a similar struggle with field trips. "I can video record these stops and we can talk about them… but in the field they can see it. You can smell it and hear it, so it’s a really different experience," she says.

Instructors say many students are stressed both by the switch to online classes and because of fears of catching the coronavirus disease. Some students at Arizona’s three state universities are lobbying for pass-fail grades instead of letter grades this semester. 


Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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