Adapting Lab Courses for Virtual Learning on Benchling

A practical guide for instructors.

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This guide to using Benchling for virtual learning will help instructors overcome some of the challenges they are facing at the moment.

We explain why Benchling’s platform makes an excellent virtual learning tool, describe how it encompasses student-centric learning styles, and provide actionable ideas to help get you started.

As social distancing practices are utilized to curb COVID-19 transmission rates, university courses have been disrupted worldwide. Semester-long plans for in-person classes and exams have been foregone as science educators scramble towards remote teaching approaches. While the transition of lectures and assessments to a digital format has seen some success with video conferencing software like Zoom and learning management systems like Canvas, digitizing experimental coursework is a greater challenge. Lab courses generally rely on wet lab work, teach a variety of molecular biology techniques, and involve active collaboration and discussion among faculty and peers. All of these factors make it difficult to adapt to a virtual environment. But with the right tools, students can build some of the same skills and achieve the key outcomes they would in an in-person lab course.

Who should use this guide?

This guide will be most relevant to instructors teaching laboratory courses in molecular biology and other related disciplines — biochemistry, bioengineering, bioinformatics, microbiology, genetics, and so on. We recommend using Benchling with an advanced undergraduate or early graduate student audience, but it would be suitable for any students with a fundamental knowledge of molecular biology.

Benchling as a Virtual Learning Platform

What is Benchling?

Benchling is a cloud-based software platform that scientists use to design, record, and analyze their experiments. Adapted as a virtual learning tool, it can help emulate the scientific process without being in the lab, allowing you to walk students through each step of an experiment and providing ample opportunities for hands-on, exploratory learning. While we recognize that virtual solutions are not a substitute for practical wet lab experience, familiarity with Benchling has key benefits that extend far beyond the classroom.

Key Advantages of Benchling for Virtual Learning

  • Benchling is a free, intuitive software for designing and analyzing experiments, including two main applications: Notebook, an electronic lab notebook, and Molecular Biology, a suite of sequence design and analysis tools.

  • Benchling allows your students to find instructions, capture notes, and compile sequences in silico in a single place, making it easy for you and your students to centralize coursework.

  • Benchling is a highly transferable skill for your students’ next step, whether they pursue careers in medicine, academia, or industry.

  • Benchling is virtually accessible to all of your students; all they need to get started is a laptop with an internet connection.

  • Benchling has a dedicated help center full of tutorials that can answer questions you or your students have in real time.

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