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Science kits turn homes into student labs

Oct 29, 2020
A woman looks into a microscope
A woman looks into a microscope

KOKOMO, Ind. — At least for this semester, Allyson Dunk’s kitchen counter doubles as her microbiology lab.

Every week Dunk, a sophomore nursing major at Indiana University Kokomo, opens her laboratory kit to use the pre-packaged materials that support what she was learning in her microbiology lecture.

“I was a little nervous about how it would be doing it at home and not having an instructor with me at first,” said Dunk, from Rossville. “I enjoy doing them at home because I can understand what’s supposed to happen, and it ties in with what we did in class. For the situation we’re in right now, it’s been a great plan. I don’t feel like I’m missing out.”

Carrie Kinsey, biology and microbiology lab instructor, arranged for the kits to provide a hands-on lab experience, even when the class switched to remote instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are virtual options, similar to a computer game, she prefers hands-on instruction.

“Lab isn’t for sitting and listening. Lab is for doing,” she said. “You learn from your fingertips to your brain. These kits give them that hands-on experience. They have something they can put their hands on, and see what happens.”

The home lab kits give students nearly the same experience they would have had working in the campus lab. She also offers lab hours, where students can come in small groups to see a demonstration and ask questions.

Freshman Emma Byram, who is in one of the biology classes, has appreciated Kinsey’s support, both in person and when she’s emailed for help.

Her favorite part of the semester has been using the microscope, which has the same magnification powers as the ones she would have been using in Kinsey’s lab.

“I’ve really enjoyed looking at plants and muscle tissue,” the nursing major said. “The instructions for all of the labs have been straightforward and easy to do, and they go well overall with the lectures. It enhances and solidifies everything we’re learning.”

Like Dunk, she was nervous at first about doing labs at home. Once her kit arrived, she began working with it in various locations around her house, but mostly in the laundry room.

Kinsey was careful to keep the kit cost similar to what students would have paid in lab fees, and that no substances that would make anyone sick were included. Each kit includes materials such as pipettes, test tubes, slides, and a miniature microscope that could be used for multiple lessons, and then packaged products, such as a dissection kit with a squid in preservative, that will be used once.

Each one also came with a detailed online lab manual, which includes written and video instructions and safety reminders. Students can work at their own pace through the material.

“I’m delighted that a number of students are thriving with this format,” she said. “Overall, I think student success has been similar to what I see when I teach labs in person. Some do super well, some take a little longer to get it, just as in any first year biology or microbiology class.”

Kinsey noted this format allowed students who have been quarantined, or who have family members with fragile health, to continue working towards their degrees. It also allows students to focus on the work, rather than worrying if they are far enough apart from one another or doing enough disinfecting between using equipment.

“Under the current circumstances, I think it’s important to keep the pressure or stress level low,” she said, adding that in some ways, she’s getting more interaction with students because of meeting in small groups, or conversing on email.

“Students seem to feel freer to speak up and ask questions,” she said. “They receive personal help with their difficulties as they go through the labs. We’ve been able to solve a number of problems over email. Overall, I feel positive about the experience.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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