Best Practices for Rethinking Lab Activities

Pitfalls (Don’ts), Solutions (Do’s), & Practical Examples

Designing lab activities in an online curriculum can seem challenging, however, you don't need to wait until face-to-face classes are safe and permissible.   Taking advantage of  the opportunities available in the online environment for the teaching, learning, and assessment of lab activities can be easy to design and implement.  Below is guidance on how to take advantage of these opportunities using the best practices in distance education.  
Pitfalls (Don’ts) Solution (Do’s) Examples of Best Practices
Do not try to replicate your face-to-face lab in the online environment. Where the lab is a one-way teaching event introducing the content. Use synchronous time purposefully and sparingly. Provide required pre-lab activities for the students to “arrive” to lab prepared with the ability to meaningfully apply and demonstrate the content. Examples of required pre-lab activities:
  • Students submit answers to guiding questions about a case.
  • Students share a video teaching their peers a skill.
  • Students create and submit a clinical decision making chart.
  • Students submit a self-reflection on their experience practicing skills (what works well, what is still unclear or difficult).
Use small groups (10-12 students max if possible). The lab instructor facilitates application of the content during the synchronous session rather than re-instructing the content
  • Student instruction, demonstration of skills with peer and instructor feedback.
  • Peer explanation of clinical decisions surrounding a pre-lab case.
  • Instructor explanation and facilitation of pre-lab guiding questions of a case, tying in clinical pearls.
Do not re-teach skills that the students have video examples of. Use lab time to clarify common errors and/or ‘muddy points’. To avoid the lab turning into you re-teaching everything the students have a video example of, before lab have the students submit ‘muddy points’ of skills or areas they need clarification for/having trouble with. Demonstrate/re-teach those skills as needed.
Do not have only one video example/resource demonstrating the skill being instructed. Have multiple videos and instructional resources for the lab skills (instructor-created, student-created, publisher/outside resource).
  • Create many short video snippets of you performing a skill incorrectly, have the students submit a document where they (1) identify the error(s), and (2) provide details on how to correct the error(s).
  • Assign each student 1 skill they must record themselves (and submit to a class-wide discussion forum) demonstrating/instructing others on the skill; Require peer feedback and facilitate this by providing a rubric for students to use to give one another feedback on skill performance.
  • To help show there is not only one ‘right’ way to perform a skill - utilize and embrace ‘outside’ videos from publishers, YouTube etc. Design discussions and/or reflections on differences observed and clinical pearls of how skills may need to be adjusted in clinical practice.
Do not wait until face-to-face labs are permissible/safe for the students to practice skills Provide the students guidance on how to best learn and practice skills. Break this down into cognitive and psychomotor activities. Cognitive practice
  • Create study guides breaking down the skills step-by-step
  • Practice the skills through visualization
  • Practice the skills by verbalizing the steps of the skills and how to properly perform the skills.
Psychomotor practice
  • With others (family members, roommates etc.) if possible.
  • With stuffed animals (make-shift mannequins).
  • On an imaginary friend. Accompany the visualization and verbalization with physically mimicking the skill.
Do not portray that lab activities online are lesser/not as good as face-to-face Instill and portray confidence to your class that online is a different environment that has different opportunities.
  • Although not instantaneous, there is more opportunity for feedback
  • There is more opportunity for viewing skill demonstration.
  • There is more opportunity for problem-solving, clinical reasoning, and practice of the skills (increased repetition and practice).
  • More opportunities for peer-teaching/collaboration.
  • Provide reassurance that students can safely and adequately learn lab skills even when not meeting face-to-face.
Do not wait until face-to-face labs are permissible/safe to assess skill acquisition. Create virtual verbal (clinical) reasoning skill checks and psychomotor skills checks.
  • Provide very clear instructions and expectations via a rubric that will be used for grading.
  • Use time-limited ‘break-out rooms’ (i.e. via Zoom) where the student must perform a different task in each room, with a different grader.
  1. Room 1: Perform _____ skill(s) (with feedback at the end)
  2. Room 2: Verbal reasoning/clinical decision making (with feedback at the end)
  • Following the breakout room assessment - require the students to submit a self-reflection on skill performance, what they did well, what they could have done better, and what they learned.
  • For exam security, have the students show you their surroundings via the webcam before starting.
  For additional resources please visit our Online Teaching & Learning Educational Series here.  At Rehab Essentials, we also support online teaching & learning through our licensed courses, by adding expert-led foundational content.  This frees up your faculty to focus more on these high impact, engaged learning activities.  Learn more here.