Getting Creative with Biology

Classroom instruction is challenging enough to transition to remote learning. But how can you recreate a virtual science lab?

That’s the concern that first came to mind for Idelisa Ayala, an associate professor at Broward College, when she first learned her college would transfer to a virtual learning environment in light of concerns over COVID-19.

“If I can be honest, my first instinct was complete panic,” Ayala explains. “I wasn’t worried about my lectures since I already use online components. My main concern was how we would handle our labs.”

She wasn’t alone.

Ayala, along with colleagues in Broward’s biological sciences department, including Vanessa Hormann and Lisa Burgess, assistant professors of biological sciences, got to work.

“I was grateful we had that week to regroup and make a plan,” Hormann says. “Our team pulled together to share resources, ideas and figure out the best way we could support our students and one another.”

“We had to think through how to mimic our labs online and find interactive activities that correlate with what we’re teaching,” Ayala says. Now, a typical virtual lab course for Ayala’s students involves meeting in Blackboard, a digital learning environment, where she can share her screen, interact with one another and provide activities to supplement the instruction.

For instance, for a biology class for non-science majors, Ayala had her students utilize a virtual microscope to examine slides, take screenshots of their findings and share with the class. For another class, she found a program where students can run pH scale simulations online. She’s found that she enjoys the challenge as much as her students.

“I had to play with these tools like I was a student myself in order to figure out how to make it work. Our team is finding digital resources and websites that we didn’t know existed before this, which is helping our teaching skills to evolve during this difficult time.”


By the Numbers

By March 23, Broward had transitioned 3,563 classes to remote learning, serving approximately 90,000 students and held more than 90 training sessions for 800+ faculty participants to assist in the transition to remote learning through the college’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning (CTEL) and Instructional Design teams. The science department alone transitioned 327 classes – including labs – serving 6,641 students.

Burgess, who, in addition to teaching, also serves as the college’s faculty facilitator for CTEL, says while the transition has come with challenges, it has also provided her additional time to reflect on her ability as an instructor.

“I’ve been able to implement a lot of the techniques I learned through ACUE – such as breaking the material down into small pieces and building relationships with my students,” she says.

Burgess shared some of these techniques during a recent webinar hosted by the American Federation of Teachers to explore effective practices for taking online subjects in the arts and sciences.

Hormann, who will complete the ACUE program in May, says she finds herself going through previous modules that relate specifically to online learning.

“We’re now in the third week of remote learning, and we’re getting into a groove,” Hormann says. “Through this crisis, we’re seeing not only our teaching styles evolve but also our students’ learning styles.”



Lisa Burgess is an ACUE-credentialed assistant professor of biological sciences at Broward College, where she also serves as the faculty facilitator for the college’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning. Burgess has a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Florida Atlantic University, and master’s degrees in pharmaceutical sciences and biological sciences from the University of Florida and Johns Hopkins University, respectively.

Vanessa Hormann is an assistant professor of biological sciences at Broward College. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biological sciences, as well as a Ph.D. in integrative biology, from Florida Atlantic University,

Idelisa Ayala is an ACUE-credentialed associate professor of biological sciences at Broward College. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico and a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.