McLaughlin Institute

Summer Program 2019

The goal of educators is to equip students with the skills, tools and knowledge they will need to engage in the world around them.  That world is continuously changing and is increasingly impacted by technology.  Student interns at McLaughlin Institute had the opportunity to participate in a project that brought technology to the science laboratory classroom. University of Providence junior Havilah Neujahr and CMR senior Gail Parambi took over 20,000 digital images of microorganisms for use in creation of online resources for science labs.

Experiences in sciences labs are an important component of higher education as experiments can make fundamental concepts tangible for students.  Because of the practical, hands on nature of sciecne labs, this category of education has been one of the last areas to move to online distance learning.  Microbiological studies in particular present unique challenges because biological samples are difficult to simulate with virtual labs and often are too hazardous to let a student conduct the experiment at home.

The intern project, overseen by affiliate MRI faculty member Dr. Brenda Canine, addressed both of these issues.   “By creating a catalog of microbiological samples we can create a large number of laboratory scenarios for students to interact with, and because these were real lab samples, collected by students, common pitfalls we see in teaching labs were also replicated and can be incorporated into the scenario. When things don’t work absolutely perfectly is when critical thinking and problem solving skills can be developed.”    Using an online learning system allows these scenarios to be put into a practice and delivered to distance learners.

Distance education is especially important in a geographically large and academically isolated state like Montana.  By having these online resources for students, opportunities become available for students in rural areas.  Distance learning can increase access and enable students to develop and hone technology skills.

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