The 3×3 Framework for Moving Laboratory Sessions Online



The initial rush to implement emergency online instruction in the face of the COVID-19 crisis is now giving way to a thoughtful and intentional assessment of how we can make the best use of the affordances of our online learning and teaching investments.

I am a firm believer that pedagogy must lead the way we use technology to enhance our teaching and not the features or functions of a tool. As you continue to transition your laboratory sessions online I propose a framework to help you think about how to move from emergency teaching online to an intentional, technology-enhanced learning experience for your students. This framework doesn’t address all the factors involved in this important work, but my hope is that it will help resource you in this important work.

Two important factors to consider when moving your laboratory sessions online are the level of learner involvement you will require and the level of the technological complexity you will use. These two factors impact the kind of learning experience that is being offered to your students as well as the kinds of support, training, guidance and scaffolding that is likely to be required for this to be successful.

Technological Complexity

As you move up the Technological Complexity scale, both facilitators and learners will require greater training, guidance and support. You will likely need to scaffold your sessions to help grow your learner’s familiarity with the tools you are using. Although the more complex tools will require more preparation and guidance, they do offer some of the most engaging and impactful learning experiences.

Analogue Experiments

Exercises that employ the same equipment and processes that you would normally use in your face-to-face sessions.

  • Low level of additional technological complexity.
  • Equipment, setting and workflow of experiments are almost identical to the in-class mode.
  • Little additional training for facilitators.
  • Little additional guidance for learners.
  • Logistical and safety challenges are present if attempting to provide specialised equipment to students.

Web Experiments

Exercises that are delivered online via a web browser. Useful in enabling learners to examine and manipulate isolated aspects of your discipline.

  • Medium level of additional technological complexity.
  • Additional use of browser-based tools.  Uses tools already very familiar to facilitators and learners.
  • Little additional training for facilitators.
  • Little additional guidance for learners.

Immersive Experiments

Exercises that often require licenses and sometime specialised equipment.  These are incredibly useful in enabling your learners to experience the holistic complexity found in your discipline.

  • High level of additional technological complexity.
  • High-end technological implementations.  Novel and specific technologies used.
  • Medium to high additional training for facilitators.
  • Medium to high additional guidance for learners.

Student Involvement

As you move up the Learner Involvement scale, learners will require a greater skill set and ability to be self-directed.

Facilitator-led Sessions

Exercises involving the facilitator demonstrating the practice.  Your learners benefit by observing good practice.

  • Low student involvement.
  • Learner role is observation and response.

Group-based Sessions

Exercises where your learners participate in the practice within groups.

  • Medium level of student involvement.
  • Responsibilities are shared amongst students.

Individual Student Sessions

Exercises where each student participates in the practice individually.

  • Highest level of student involvement.
  • Each learner is required to understand and participate in the full range of the activity.

Experience in helping educators implement laboratory sessions online suggests that some combinations are more useful and provide better experiences for both learners and facilitators. The combinations that seem to work the best are represented in blocks with the number 1 in the above image. Combinations that work well but don’t make the best use of the online mode are represented in blocks with the number 2 in the above image. Combinations that face logistic or educational challenges are shown in blocks with the number 3 in the above image.

As you continue to move your laboratory sessions online, I hope that this framework helps you consider the factors involved in intentionally creating impactful learning experiences for your students.

Click here to download the PDF best practice.