Teaching lab sciences during a pandemic: professors embrace face-to-face teaching

How can students complete lab work without access to a science lab? As the full-time return to classrooms will not be safe for some time, this dilemma presented a challenge for professors at Birzeit University’s Faculty of Science. But the university’s education leaders swiftly designed responses as the pandemic runs its course.

The overall concern was facilitating the speedy design and rapid implementation of adaptive responses to the emerging education challenges, guaranteeing a student-centered education system. Thus, it was considered essential to adopt a hybrid learning system to help educators and learners navigate the pandemic.

Inside our science labs, where students meet with their professors on two days each week, we met three faculty members of the physics, chemistry and biology departments who told us more about the new system and its challenges:

Emilia Rappocciolo, a faculty member at the Department of Biology and Biochemistry

We cannot deny the difference between online and face-to-face education. I certainly prefer being able to see my students’ expressions and interacting with them directly to assess whether they understand what I am saying or not. But the fact that we are inside the labs during the spread of COVID-19 is challenging indeed. We must maintain social distance, cannot interact in large groups, and have to wear our masks all the time. But all these unprecedented practices become easy when we meet and see each other.”

Saleh Rayyan, the chairperson of the Department of Chemistry

“I teach an advanced course where students have to discover unknown organic compounds. That is why being in the lab is essential―while maintaining social distancing and public safety.”

Nihad Abu Awwad, a faculty member at the Department of Physics

“Meeting students is important, especially with first-year students. They need to engage, at least partially, and interact with university life to learn how teaching is done at a university. The “Physics Lab I” course I am teaching face-to-face runs parallel to a theoretical course that is taught remotely. So, on two days a week, the students practice in the science lab what they are learning online.”

These three professors advised their students to keep going despite the challenges, enjoy the changes, and try to engage in university life as much as they can. Rappocciolo advised the students to “Stay safe, wear your masks, wash your hands and study well to enjoy your experience at Birzeit. Your journey at the university will be smooth and enjoyable.”