The Charger Blog

Biology Professor Experienced at Creating Online Laboratory Learning for Students

At the beginning of the semester, Christina Zito, Ph.D. piloted the use of Labster, a virtual lab simulation. That experience has been valuable as she and her colleagues across the University are implementing innovative learning solutions that are enabling students, in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, to successfully continue their coursework remotely.

March 23, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Tina Zito, Ph.D., and Carter Takacs, Ph.D.
Tina Zito, Ph.D., and Carter Takacs, Ph.D. (Photo by Anna Downs '21)

James DeFrancesco ’20, ’22 M.S. admits he was initially concerned when he learned at the start of the semester that his cell biology course would include some online lab work. He quickly found, though, that the innovative tools he had access to provide an efficient and effective way to learn.

“Lab experience is essential for my education,” said DeFrancesco, a forensic science major who will begin pursuing a master’s degree in cellular and molecular biology in the fall. “We have been using an online lab simulation called Labster that has enabled us to perform digital experiments.”

Leading DeFrancesco’s course is Christina Zito, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of New Haven’s Biology and Environmental Science Department. At the start of this semester she piloted this semester the use of Labster to supplement her students’ learning.

"We are all working together to make the best of it, and to make sure our students continue to learn."Christina Zito, Ph.D.

The experience Dr. Zito gained implementing Labster has been valuable as she moves all of her courses online following the University’s decision – in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic – to continue remotely for the balance of the spring semester.

Dr. Zito is sensitive to the fact that one of the challenges for students learning remotely is completing lab work, and she is continuing to explore ways to support students who are doing laboratory research projects. She has been in touch with textbook publishers and learning tool companies, researching how they are making their content and tools available virtually.

"This is an opportunity to implement new tools for learning," she said. "We are choosing simulations that closely align with the work we had intended to do in the lab. We will have the students do the simulated lab, and we are working on ways to provide real data that the students can use for analysis."

Image of James DeFrancesco ’20, ’22 M.S.
James DeFrancesco ’20, ’22 M.S.

Many of Dr. Zito’s colleagues are also experimenting with Labster or similar platforms and online academic resources. They have been supporting each other to ensure that, together, they can continue to provide the high level of support for students.

"We’ve been sharing tips, tricks, and ideas about different online learning tools and strategies for transitioning to remote learning," she said. "We are all working together to make the best of it, and to make sure our students continue to learn."

While she has routinely taught online classes and is familiar with a variety of online learning tools, Dr. Zito says it is challenging to convert face-to-face classes to remote-learning courses. She’ll be recording her lectures and making them available to students online, and she’s endeavoring to stick to the schedules outlined in her syllabi. She’s also exploring using Zoom, an online meeting tool, for office hours, for advising, and for meeting with her classes.

"I am breaking everything up into much smaller units and providing opportunities for more frequent assessment between each unit," she says. "This is to ensure that students don’t feel overwhelmed – and for me to be sure they are keeping up. I will miss seeing them all face to face, but this seems like a good way to still interact with them."

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