Crafting an Effective Virtual Classroom in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Transforming hands-on laboratory activities to a meaningful virtual experience was truly challenging during the spring and fall semesters of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, the task was daunting. Even under normal circumstances, many instructors are not technological gurus. Despite Virginia Commonwealth University’s fortunate position of having additional technological resources available to its instructors, many of these resources could not be utilized effectively, if at all, given the extreme time constraints to develop virtual courses and/or activities. VCU’s Department of Forensic Science realized that virtual laboratories were not the only option to replace in-person activities. At home lab activities were appropriate for some forensic science courses, like crime scene investigation, but not appropriate for others, like forensic serology, due to safety concerns associated with the use of biohazardous body fluids, difficulty storing and transporting sensitive reagents, as well as challenges associated with the practical aspects of delivering/dispersing take-home laboratory kits. The forensic science department did its best to effectively and creatively adapt all courses for virtual learning in the spring and made additional modifications to accommodate social distancing to allow for in-person laboratory courses with some virtual components for the fall (though all lecture courses were still taught virtually). These included at-home, do-it-yourself crime scenes; virtual labs for forensic serology; a heavy reliance on Zoom for a variety of applications aside from online lecture delivery; and anti-cheating strategies for online tests. Even once the COVID pandemic subsides, some of these modifications will likely remain integrated into these courses because they were so effective.