Lab Activities

Lab Activities

Remote lab learning and research have been happening in labs and academia for years. Re-examine the learning objectives, course activities, and even assessment standards associated with each lab to align with these remote lab examples.

Start by considering the fundamental purpose of the lab activities: learning a process of experimentation, physical experience, practicing a skill/procedure, data collection or analysis, working collaboratively, etc.

1. Explore possible engagement strategies

Transition away from the synchronous and collaborative activities typically found in labs (e.g., working through an experiment at lab tables, demonstrating a digital model simulation, etc.) to more asynchronous options.

  • Certain discrete aspects of the lab can be taken online and supplemented by other methods.
  • Leverage, the hands-on experiences students may have already gained in previous labs to create new lessons.

Consider using one of the many open-access online lab simulators (See Resources below) or promote participation in a citizen science project.

These virtual labs vary by discipline and rigor, so CELT recommends that you review and modify the lab, perhaps include one example of a completed lab in the course material.

Proactively determine what part of the lab process can become more asynchronous. For example, record and post the “Boardwork” used for pre-lab instruction. Develop other pre-lab activities (hypothesis, equipment selection, process, etc.) to have students discuss before labs begin. Connect this advanced work to student learning through synchronous meetings or Canvas Discussions.

For the actual experiment/lab process, instructors may consider recording themselves conducting it (or provide other online demonstrations of similar labs). In cases where labs typically include both data collection and analysis, providing raw data (calculations, graphs, etc.) perhaps from previous course experiments as data collection is difficult to do remotely and independently. Consider changing certain factors/performance standards and re-work / re-simulating labs you’ve already completed in person.

Assign student teams for the labs, set up break-out rooms, create Discussions, etc. to make sure the learning can be shared. Help them work through any issues with availability or access with teammates.

Finally, lab work focuses on the process as a way of replicating practical experiences and knowledge production and assessment are generally based upon products created as a result. This opportunity to dive deeper may compromise the work OR be leveraged in a way to improve these processes.

Create an assignment related to discussing the pros/cons of the process and explore how renowned remote labs (e.g., NASA’s Mars Exploration Program) gather data and proceed with a rigorous scientific method. This critical thinking process may prepare them to become future innovators in their field.

2. Use the quick start guide



Best Practices and Tools

Pre-Lab Instruction:

Studio and Panopto to record short lectures/demonstrations

PowerPoint slides with notes coupled

Examples of previous labs in Canvas Discussion or Studio


Adjust activities to focus on the fundamental purpose of the lab (experience, skill building, data collection, analysis, production, etc.).

Make pre-lab instruction asynchronous (short videos or annotated slides) to explain concepts and demonstrate the process.

Video Creation


Lab Instruction:

Studio and Panopto to record lab experiments

Online open-access virtual lab simulators


Find ways to interact with students during the prep and process, including virtual “office hours” and synchronous meetings (Webex).

Video Creation

Virtual “Student” (Office) hours

Web Conferencing (Webinars)

Safe at-home labs

With or without kits (reflection only)

YouTube or other online sites for existing resources from your discipline


Revise scope of the lab to focus on part the process (e.g., how to analyze data that is already given).

Modify expectations for what is produced as typical lab reports, simulations, and physical prototypes may not be possible.

3. Make it accessible

Many of these tools may not readily accessible to students with disabilities, particularly to those students visual or physical impairments. Instructors should be prepared to offer reasonable accommodations to such students so that they may participate fully in
course activities.

4. Review additional resources

Lab Resources and Collections

Articles and Conference Proceedings

  • Beltz, D., Desharnais, R., Narguizian, P., & Son, J. (2016). Comparing Physical, Virtual, and Hybrid Flipped Labs for General Education Biology. Online Learning, 20(3) 228 – 243.
  • Chen, B., Bastedo, K., & Howard, W. (2018). Exploring Design Elements for Online STEM Courses: Active Learning, Engagement & Assessment Design. Online Learning, 22(2), 59-75. Retrieved on May 13, 2020, from
  • Computer science faculty could also search SIGCSE:
  • How to Quickly (and Safely) Move a Lab Course Online – from The Chronicle
  • How to Rethink Science Lab Courses – from Inside Higher Ed
  • Journal of Visualized Experiments: A collection of science lab demo videos for various levels and disciplines including biology, neuro, and psych.
  • Remotely Hands-On — from Inside Higher Ed
  • University of Colorado-Boulder. (2020). Research on the use of PHET (Physics Education Technology). Retrieved on May 13, 2020, from