Using Skype as a Tool to Teach Online Science (LabPaq) Laboratories

By Dr. James W. Brown, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Science, Ocean County College

Dr. James W. Brown

During the Fall Semester of 2011 I began using Skype as a teaching tool with students having difficulties with their online laboratories. For several years, I have been teaching Principles of Biological Science, General Biology I and II and Microbiology totally online. The “hands-on” wet labs using LabPaqs have been a unique feature of the courses. Students would have frequent questions about the laboratories, which usually were resolved by referring them back to the well- written lab manuals that accompany their LabPaqs. I supplemented those materials with several illustrating how to adjust your microscope, streak a bacterial plate, using sterile technique, transferring a culture, etc. In spite of these efforts, some students required a little more Tender Loving Care (TLC). At times, numerous e-mails were exchanged and chat rooms used in an attempt to resolve issues.  I even asked them to call me on my cell phone at specific times, since although deployed military could call me I couldn’t call them back- their telephone information was scrambled for security purposes.

I began using Skype as a way of instantly communicating with the student and helping them with their immediate lab issues. Skype is a web-based communication tool. Its video and audio component is wonderful tool and it makes the student feel as if you are in a laboratory right next to them. I can actually hold up test tubes, culture plates or microscope components and walk the student right through the process even though they are on the other side of the world. I first became aware of the potential for Skype in my online courses while watching an instructor in Guatemala teaching Spanish to my eight year old daughter. The real-time “face-to-face” contact provides a wonderful opportunity to help students who need just a little extra help. I frequently use it to help the students set up their microscope in microbiology, in which a drop of oil is added between the 40X high dry objective and the 100X oil immersion objective. It is a bit tricky, but the student can see instantly how to do it.

Dr. Jim Brown using Skype to communicate with student miles away
Photo Credit: William M. Brown photography

Skype is free and can be set up easily in 5 minutes. It is an incredible educational tool, and I wish I had begun using years ago. For a small cost, video conferencing can be added to a Skype account. My future plans include using Skype to bring in guest speakers, speaking to students live from their laboratories. I hope to add a virtual live hospital laboratory field trip experience for next semester, allowing microbiology students to watch a live culture work up. The possibilities are endless.

I also have encouraged students to use virtual lab partners. I require each student to purchase a LabPaq and use a completely difference set of experimental data but they can “hold hands” and help each other through the process. Many of them use Skype to help each other.

You can set up Skype instantly by going to their website. Most computers sold today have the webcam and microphone built right in, and you can be ready to go in just a few minutes. Skype and LabPaq, “perfect together!” Try it and you will love it!



This article has been translated to Serbo-Croatian language by Jovana Milutinovich here >>


16 Responses

  1. May I ask how much it costs to use Skype in 1 of your classes? Does the college pay for it?

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