After 26 years as a high school teacher, Christopher J. Oswald II decided to double down as an educator and become an adjunct instructor of Biology and Physiology at Los Angeles Southwest College. He’s been keeping up this double duty for the last 11 years.
“I still get excited about those aha moments with the kids. I work with a student population that might be struggling to believe in themselves, and I love getting to help them achieve their academic and professional goals. I never expected to go in this direction, but I feel like that's what I was supposed to do.”
Oswald has taught with Labster at both the community college and high school levels and has developed his own set of best practices for using the immersive science simulation platform. Read on to explore his four top tips.
I absolutely utilize Labster for all of my synchronous and asynchronous coursework. In fact, I’m not even sure how I’d conduct lab if I didn’t have it. And I continue to advocate for Labster at Southwest.
Christopher J. Oswald II
Adjunt instructor of Biology and Physiology
“I absolutely utilize Labster for all of my synchronous and asynchronous coursework. In fact, I'm not even sure how I'd conduct lab if I didn't have it. And I continue to advocate for Labster at Southwest.”
The way I set my online courses up, they have a preliminary discussion. I start by sharing some fun facts about me and then ask them to share three fun facts about themselves. Two of them have to be true, but the other should be false. They have to respond to at least three people in the threaded discussion during Week One. I tell them you're going to have to decide on who's going to be in your lab group. By the time we get to Week Two, 80-85% of them already know who they'd like to work with. It makes it easy for me to get them into specific groups, and it’s fun.
I set up the breakout rooms in Zoom, but I rename them "laboratory groups", and I put them in those groups based on their choices. Then somebody in the group has to volunteer as the lab group leader, and that individual will open up the simulation and navigate through it with the assistance of the other three folks. The leader facilitates. They will say "Hey, what should we do here?" "What do you think?" and "Let's go back to the theory page for background." This allows them to develop their leadership, collaboration, and communication skills.
When I was first using Labster, we would go through the labs together. I would do them all myself before I'd give them to the students. That way I could give them a heads-up about what to look for. Now, I'm more conscious of wanting them to do the work themselves when they're in their lab groups. I will ask them questions that make them pay more attention. I'll say, "Why would you utilize this technique as opposed to this other technique?" "Why did you use this piece of equipment?" "What is the proper protocol for using this particular piece of equipment?" And so I think it requires them to think instead of just going through the motions.
I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from the students that it’s a cool way to learn content and develop their skills. And I'll encourage them to see it that way. I’ll say, "Hey, we're going to be doing one of my favorite Labster labs today, the Squid Neuron Lab."
But before I have them go through the simulation, I’ll tell them "I want you to take very copious and detailed notes about membrane potentials. I'm going to ask you about some of the techniques because you're going to need to utilize some of them for the lecture component of our lab and in your assessments coming up." The students take it seriously and I obviously want them to take it seriously.
Working together, you might think they're always going to get ten out of ten scores. Well, it never works out that way. But I always offer each of them a second opportunity to do the simulation. Some take advantage of it and some don't. I don't think it'd be right if I just said, "Hey, you get one shot at this thing" and too bad if you make a mistake.
I have to be mindful of the fact I don't want to overwhelm anyone. Yes, I want to push, but I don't want to push them off the cliff. Most of my asynchronous classes are in the shorter seven-week term, and what I have to be careful of is that it's already such a rapid pace and I'm putting a lot out there.
At the end of the spring semester, I’ll start going back through to see which new simulations Labster has introduced. If I'm doing a summer class, that's the first time I want to try out a new lab. I'll implement it in the summer, reflect on it, troubleshoot the assignments a little bit, and then I'll integrate the new lab into my Canvas shell for fall and spring the following year.