A Pandemic-Resilient Open-Inquiry Physical Science Lab Course Which Leverages the Maker Movement

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Forrest Riley Bradbury
Freek Pols


Without any major changes, a pilot version of a physical science lab course was able to continue
when the COVID-19 crisis necessitated the abrupt suspension of on-campus education. The
‘Maker Lab’ course, in which students conceive and set up their own experiments using affordable
microcontrollers, required students to follow the entire arc of the empirical research cycle
twice. Pedagogical literature on teaching the process of experimental research and the scientific
method motivate use of these open-inquiry assignments. Further, the flipped classroom approach was used,
where contact time is devoted to discussions and the students’ actual experiments were carried out
independently at home or elsewhere without the supervision of an instructor. Despite the COVID19 measures, all students were able to produce interesting and successful research projects. While
there were of course difficulties encountered in the abrupt transition to online teaching, we found
several counterbalancing advantages that bear consideration for including the instructional method
even when all teaching activities can return to campus. We believe that three components in the
design of the course were vital to the resilience of the course: the choice for fully open-inquiry
projects, the decision to use Arduinos as measurement tools, and the flipped aspect of the
instruction methods. We also include considerations for adapting these pandemic-resilient methods
in other courses and programs.

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