Remote bioengineering lab delivers promising dataCari Cooney | June 25, 2022
The pandemic prompted educators all over the world to adopt virtual learning. While modifying existing resources was reasonably simple for theory-based lecture classes, teaching laboratory sessions online presented a significant barrier. Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign illustrate the use of a remote laboratory activity to teach students about enzyme kinetics in a new study.
“A significant challenge for online learning is the delivery of hands-on lab coursework. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed and shipped kits with supplies and reagents to provide lab experience to remote students,” said Karin Jensen, professor of bioengineering. “We wanted to help students practice techniques and perform experiments remotely using protocols that do not require large and expensive equipment that students normally have access to in our instructional lab.”
Recently, the team created remote activities utilizing at-home equipment to teach students how to operate micropipettes. They are now working on how to teach undergraduate students about enzyme kinetics, which examines how rapidly an enzyme degrades its target to generate a product. To that end, the researchers created an at-home enzyme kinetics kit that can be used as a substitute to conventional laboratory approaches.
“While other instructors have developed lab kits in the past, none of those were focused on teaching enzyme kinetics, which is particularly challenging given the specialized equipment normally required to accurately measure the products of the enzymatic reactions” said Pablo Perez-Pinera, an associate professor of bioengineering. “We used very basic and affordable equipment to teach students how to perform simple experiments and rapidly collect data to study enzyme kinetics.”
Positive student feedback leads team to move forward
The students were researching how lactase, an enzyme, transforms lactose to glucose. Micropipettes, scales, lactose, lactase pills and a glucose meter were all included in the kit. The students were virtually trained to use micropipettes and to enter findings in electronic lab notebooks in the weeks leading up to the assignment. They were given instructions on how to conduct the tests after seeing a pre-recorded presentation on enzymes.
Even after the pandemic is over, students will still need kits like these. For example, students who cannot go to labs in person for various reasons, students enrolled in STEM-themed summer camps or those in online programs may still need virtual lab learning opportunities. The research team hopes that lab exercises like these will also help make STEM education more accessible.