Two McMaster University biochemistry teaching professors have launched a free, open-access online manual for second-year biochemistry students to introduce them to wet lab work.

Caitlin Mullarkey and Felicia Vulcu published the Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences Open Education Resource (OER) Lab Manual this year, teaching students everything from basic skills like using a pipette to designing primers for a polymerase chain reaction experiment. The manual is available through eCampus Ontario at https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/biochem2l06/.

Using custom technique videos, interactive content, and elevated instructor resources, the OER aims to provide students with an immersive laboratory experience, even as COVID-19 may keep them at home. “Textbooks are hugely expensive, costing students hundreds of dollars per term. That is a barrier to learning and students have either chosen different courses or gone without the books as they can’t afford them,” said Mullarkey, associate chair of undergraduate education for the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences.

“As educators we are passionate about removing access barriers for students. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first lab resource of its kind from a Canadian university.”

Vulcu and Mullarkey said the manual is accessible to anyone and is written in an informal and fun manner, reflecting the inclusive and friendly atmosphere at the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences.

For Vulcu, the manual was also an opportunity to “showcase an amazing community of people,” reflected in its accessible language and easy-to-follow layout.

Vulcu said instructors around the world could model their courses on the manual or use it to devise their own teaching programs.

Another benefit is that lab techniques outlined in the manual can be leveraged for lab work across diverse branches of science, from biology to chemical engineering.

“When I first became a professor, I was desperate for someone to give me some insight to set up a lab course. Now, however, Caitlin and I are developing this whole new momentum for open education focusing on lab content,” said Vulcu, undergraduate program advisor of the biochemistry and biomedical sciences department.

They have both previously worked with McMaster’s MacPherson Institute to help develop the university’s massive open online course initiative in 2017.

They received an OER grant from the MacPherson Institute to create the lab manual.

 

 

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