Sandy Hegeman is growing E. coli and staph bacteria in her childhood playroom.
The 21-year-old UF nutritional sciences senior decided to take a microbiology lab this Summer, a course that is required for her major. The class is now taught online after UF transitioned to remote learning due to COVID-19.
“I don't feel entirely comfortable having bacterial species in my home,” Hegeman said. “I’m worried about accidentally contaminating my surroundings and getting myself or my family sick. Unfortunately, there's really nothing anyone can do about these things.”
She is one of the 30,771 students enrolled in classes during the 2020 Summer term, according to UF spokesperson Steve Orlando.
This year, Summer enrollments for general chemistry labs are “through the roof,” said Alexander Angerhofer, the associate chair of the department of chemistry under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He said the number of registered students for CHM2045L is up 130 percent compared to last Summer, and enrollment for CHM2046L is up 70 percent.
Angerhofer said he assumes the increase is likely due to students’ Summer plans getting canceled as a result of COVID-19.
“Students obviously had plans for the Summer. Some wanted to travel, others maybe had an internship lined up,” Angerhofer said. “So, students were thinking, ‘Well, might as well take classes to get ahead in my curriculum.’”
Angerhofer said the university has changed the structure of the courses to accommodate for remote learning. While he said he is sure students will be able to complete the lab at the same rate they normally would in person, he is worried that students might not be as well prepared for future courses.
The department prefers to teach labs in person, Angerhofer said, because students depend on a hands-on structure to truly learn the material.
“This is really an exception which we do not really want to repeat,” Angerhofer said.
Maria Korolev, a senior lecturer and instructor for CHM2045L and CHM2046L this Summer, said the department is trying to provide students with the best possible experience despite the current situation.
“It is hard to predict how the online environment will affect students’ learning,” Korolev wrote in an email. “It is clearly not the same experience as performing the laboratory in person.”
Traditionally, the class consisted of weekly lab meetings where students worked in pairs to perform an experiment, which a graduate teaching assistant supervised, she said. Students were also required to complete online assignments before and after the lab.
For the online lab, Korolev said they provide recorded videos of laboratory experiments to students. Students must watch the video and read the procedures to gather data and complete an analysis, which they can complete with a lab partner, she said. Students must still turn in the online pre-lab and post-lab assignments.
The lab now meets weekly via Zoom, and students have access to their teaching assistant for help during the meeting, Korolev said.
As the circumstances are not ideal for a class that requires hands-on work, Korolev said she is looking forward to resuming face-to-face instruction as soon as it is possible.
Hegeman said she is learning to adapt to having her microbiology lab taught online. Even though the experiments are not as good as they would be in-person, she said, she thinks the department did a good job in transitioning the class.