NIC Bio 160 students meet for a virtual question and answer session with instructor Emaline Montgomery (bottom right). Image provided

North Island College leads province in transition to online biology labs

Biochemistry, cell biology, genetics among subjects students exploring from home

North Island College (NIC) biology faculty are among the first in the province to transition lab courses to digital delivery.

Students taking BIO-160 Human Anatomy & Physiology I say they are enjoying the flexibility, accessibility and quality of online learning at NIC.

“It was challenging at first to get used to, but they’ve given us so much material and resources, it’s worked really well,” said Jade Denbigh, who took the course to get ahead on her Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. “I’m actually finding that the flexibility of online learning, especially as I’m working full time, has been a big benefit.”

Classmate Megan Truby is taking classes in preparation for studying radiology and says the online platform made labs less intimidating.

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“It can be stressful to be in a lab setting in real life, whereas the online labs are very accessible and less intimidating,” said Truby. “It’s a good introduction to university-level sciences without being overwhelming.”

Truby notes taking online courses this summer is also providing her with other skills that will come in useful as she transitions to medical school.

“Soft skills like time management and organization are so important – learning online is helping to really strengthen those skills, which I know will help a lot when I have a full course load this fall at NIC and in all my future studies.”

Faculty worked with NIC’s Centre for Teaching and Learning to develop online lab components for the course, which has topics such as biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and includes an extensive laboratory component, that students would be able to complete from home.

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“This course was actually the perfect test case for doing labs online, because it’s about the human body,” said Sandra Milligan, course developer and biology instructor. “Most of the work we do in lab involves the students observing their own body – measuring heart rate, movement of joints, so we realized very quickly that most of it could be done from home.”

Milligan discovered NIC was ahead of the curve in the transition to digital learning when she attended a virtual meeting with her fellow science faculty from across the province.

“I was shocked that so many institutions had cancelled their spring offerings. NIC was one of the few in the province to be running biology labs this spring and summer,” she said. “We’ve shared our curriculum, which is being used as a template for others.”

Milligan notes NIC’s history as a distance education institution, and its size, positioned it well to make the change quickly.

“The commitment from faculty and the leadership and support from our amazing Centre for Teaching and Learning team was key in our being able to pivot so fast,” she said. “The transition wasn’t perfect, but, looking back, it’s incredible what we’ve been able to accomplish and roll out in a matter of weeks.”

The transition has been welcomed by fellow instructor Dr. Emaline Montgomery, who has watched her students adapt to the online labs.

“Learning about themselves as learners has been a key part of this,” she said. “They are learning their own capabilities to push through boundaries and increasing their confidence with the online space and technology. There’s great online engagement with each other and with me as the instructor.”

Both instructors have noted other benefits to digital learning as well, including being able to keep an eye on how students are progressing through the materials to more quickly identify those who may need help and the change in evaluation – fewer invigilated tests and more reflection-based exercises – have helped student who struggle with test anxiety.

The lessons learned through the online spring and summer delivery will also help inform how NIC’s fall classes are adapted to the digital environment.

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“I am optimistic and in full support of online learning – especially hybrid and blended options where there are opportunities for the students and instructors to interact but also lots of opportunities for student-driven learning,” said Montgomery.

For more details on all NIC’s science programs and courses, visit www.nic.bc.ca/university-studies.

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