LabArchives is now releasing course packs within Lab Builder. Lab Builder is our content library full of high quality course content that instructors can pick and choose from to create custom lab courses. Course packs contain everything instructors need to teach a course including protocols, projects and assignments. LabArchives is now a one stop shop for both students AND instructors.

After listening to and learning from LabArchives instructors, we discovered a huge gap when it came to high quality, ready made course content for lab courses. In late 2018 we began to assembling a team to fill this gap.

Last year, Natalie Stringer joined us as Director of Content Development and Resident Professor. Her experience as an instructor has been invaluable to our team as we continue to improve and build a tool that exists to make instructors’ teaching more effective and lives easier. To create our first course pack within Lab Builder, Natalie teamed up with some of our users.

You can get a bit of Natalie’s perspective in this article. Here we catch up with Daniel Kraut, Associate Professor and Director of Chemistry Graduate Studies at Villanova University, and Julie Wolf, Senior Molecular Biology Lecturer at UMBC, who worked with Natalie to build the Lab Builder Molecular Biology Course Pack.

How did you get looped in with LabArchives?

Dan: I’d been using LabArchives as a research notebook for a while when Villanova decided to evaluate the need/interest in having an institution wide digital research notebook. The Provost’s Office of Research ended up having questions for me about LabArchives and how it might be used in courses at Villanova.

We talked about a course I’d been teaching where I gave students DNA for coding fluorescent proteins. We realized that using a digital lab notebook like LabArchives, which I was already using for my own research, could actually work really well in the course I was already teaching too.

Dan Kraut

Julie: I teach a molecular biology course that is actually a one year masters degree course. Students work with me to design a one year independent project. For the first month they work on cloning expressions, this helps them establish the basic information and skills they’ll need for their big project. This is when I teach them how to properly design experiments, how to do bioinformatics, how to sequence, transform etc. We pack a lot into this part of the course and it’s a lot to keep track of. I’d been using SnapGene for years and wanted to investigate using an ELN (electronic lab notebook) in this masters course to help keep everyone on the same page. When I learned that LabArchives already had a SnapGene integration I got on board.

What were you most excited about when you started this course pack project with Natalie?

Dan: I was pretty interested in building a course within LabArchives that would have content within it for other instructors to use. It’s an interesting way to build a course and I knew if we created great content within LabArchives if could be a great fit for many courses. I liked the idea of other instructors having a chance to use great materials that had already been tested and tweaked.

Plus, publishing course content this way is so much less work that publishing that content in an academic journal. I always had that in the back of my mind and until now I didn’t have any ideas in terms of how to get around that time, money and energy sink. And I was excited about the SnapGene integration too.

Digital renderings created by some of Dan’s students.

Julie: I agree with a lot of what Dan said. I was excited about the idea of getting content out there for others to benefit from. We’ve created a very useful set of experiments and the way we built the course includes lots of different modules and leaves room for instructors to customize everything for their purposes, needs, equipment etc. Plus, it’s really nice to have someone (like LabArchives) amplify the content I’ve spent so much time working on and developing by making it available to other people.

Where did the content you created with Natalie come from?

Dan: I had free range to design my course at Villanova. I created four or five iterations of the course and essentially got good at teaching it. Every year I was making changes and revisions to the content. For example, I incorporated green fluorescent proteins into the course. These glow and are just a lot of fun to work with. They also have plenty of known mutations that change the colors in interesting ways. I decide to use these because it would be a project that students could work on all semester as opposed to one-off lab experiments. I took that content and learning and then applied it to how we built the Lab Builder Molecular Biology course pack. Continuity is key.

Green fluorescent proteins used in Dan’s course.

Julie: I’ve been teaching for many years and taught DNA workshops over the summers for professionals. When I was teaching that short form course I needed something that was easy to clone. I wanted students to have different versions, one main strain of DNA and then a big mutation within that DNA. This turned out to be a great model system for studying basic cloning mutagenesis. This kind of sequence analysis sort of trans-mutated, if you will, and became something I did every year with students. I brought that model to the Lab Builder Molecular Biology course pack along with my lab manual and other course content.

Tips and Tricks for instructors who use this course content?

Dan: Feel free to put your own style into the course as you teach it. Do the things that work for the instrumentation that you have, the students you have, the set up you have. There is a lot of content in there and you are free to use what works best for you and your set up. We included tips and tricks in the content to account for differences in lab setups and equipment etc. Plus the LabArchives team offers support to help you customize the course for your needs.

The team is excited for feedback on our first course pack! Want to check it out? Send us an email! More course packs on additional subjects are in development!