Between COVID vaccines and mass lockdowns, humanity just experienced some of the largest medical and health experiments ever. This made it harder for STEM students to continue their own studies and transformed STEM university education.

From accessing cadavers for anatomy classes to continuing research in laboratories, COVID lockdowns prevented students from continuing educational experiments. Government regulations and recommendations required labs to add new ventilation to prevent spreading COVID, which added time and expenses that universities and labs often couldn?t quickly fund. Instead, universities often shifted to connect students with their labs virtually or remotely.

This shift to virtual and remote learning in science education is continuing, even as universities and labs have reopened. The University of Illinois Chicago?s registrar now labels how classes deliver content: synchronous, asynchronous, on campus, hybrid, and off campus. DePaul University has even started connecting instructors with ?instructional designers? to help them navigate the process of designing courses that meet in person, online, or on a hybrid schedule.

We at CPASS recommend that?communities focus on these strategies to help serve diverse student communities:

Go virtual. Interactive courses such as anatomy can access a multitude of free or inexpensive resources online. Some university courses found success having student lab groups work virtually through Zoom or Microsoft teams and held virtual office hours with professors and teaching assistants. Without access to labs to conduct prescribed experiments and demonstrations, students are forced to ?. A study by Life Sciences Education quarterly shows that undergraduate STEM students have more effective learning when they?re able to design part of their investigations and labs.

Conduct lectures from labs. According to one study, students felt more connected with their lab work and campus life when attending a virtual lecture with a professor who called in from inside a lab. Labs also opted to shift to human-remote systems, where a few instructors were granted access to a closed campus and used equipment including DSLR cameras to help students connect remotely. Human-remote system labs were able to be recorded, allowing students to attend their lectures and labs asynchronously, helping them fit their university learning into their own schedule.

Robo-scientists. Scientists at the University of Liverpool used a preprogrammed robot to conduct many of their lab?s experiments during COVID lockdown. The chemistry team used their robo-scientist to conduct experiments 21.5 hours daily, pausing work only to recharge its battery. PhD students and scientists who worked on the project see robo-scientists as tools to prevent human error and efficiently conduct experiments that humans might not otherwise have time to do.

At CPASS Foundation, we are here to support traditionally underrepresented middle school, high school, and college students by introducing them to STEM subjects, majors, and training. We provide guidance and thought leadership to help create opportunities for students in Illinois to participate in STEM-related fields.?Contact Dr. Stephen Martin?to learn more about how you can partner with CPASS Foundation to create more opportunities for Black and other underrepresented students in the Chicago area.