Safety Precautions and Synchronous Learning: MMC Laboratories in the Time of COVID
In-person labs were offered this fall in a variety of courses, including General Biology, Human Anatomy, Microbiology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and General Physics. Before classes began, the Department of Natural Sciences laid out a COVID safety and disinfection plan that cooperates with MMC’s Office of Facilities. This plan required a number of modifications to be made to the laboratories and was successful by virtue of the dedication and commitment of full-time and part-time faculty that teach the labs in person.
First up, MMC purchased a series of ultraviolet disinfection tools that continually expose the circulated air in the labs to ultraviolet radiation that eradicates any airborne pathogens, including the coronavirus. Additional fans were also purchased to achieve a level of enhanced ventilation in all of the laboratory spaces which has been shown to be effective in minimizing transmission.
“This method of enhanced ventilation, coupled with ultraviolet decontamination, has worked really well,” says Ann Aguanno, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences. Dr. Aguanno has personally overseen the in-person labs this semester.
The lab spaces undergo a deep disinfection protocol each night conducted by Facilities staff who apply disinfectants in such a manner according to COVID guidelines. The Natural Sciences Lab Supervisor and his team conduct intermediary disinfection procedures between lab sessions, cleaning down the bench spaces, chairs, doorknobs, lab equipment, and more.
According to Aguanno, those who enter the laboratories have to follow strict guidelines in order to participate. “We limit the number of students that can be present in person in the lab for any lab section,” she explains. “We use that based on a calculation of square footage and the amount of space between students.”
All students and faculty are required to wear a mask, a lab coat, gloves, and safety goggles while present in the lab. While the College can provide these materials, in true MMC fashion, students have been wearing their own protective gear and decorating them in creative ways.
The Department of Natural Sciences recognized that students hesitated to return to in-person classes, but also acknowledged the importance of lab work in the sciences.
“When we came forward with our model of in-person learning, we had to incorporate the remote students as well,” says Aguanno. “The administration was incredibly supportive of our desire to offer an in-person experience because of the learning value that it provides while at the same time recognizing that remote learners needed to have as close to that experience as possible. That’s where we focused our efforts, and I’m happy to say that we were able to put forward a model that benefits students with creative pedagogy methods developed by the faculty teaching the labs to ensure remote student engagement.”
View the video below to hear more from Dr. Aguanno about synchronous learning opportunities and to see MMC’s virtual lab partnerships in action:
Benefits of the Partnership
Professor Aguanno notes that the in-person/remote model of lab learning has enhanced student understanding of the global effects brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The coronavirus and what it’s done to our educational environment has raised awareness in the students’ minds about infectious disease, public policy,” says Aguanno. “Students are now thinking about the environments that they’re working, thinking about access to health care, thinking about things like getting tested, and thinking about if they might get someone sick. From a medical ethics standpoint, it’s really raised awareness in our students and so it’s an incredibly important teachable moment.”