Bioengineering professor Karin Jensen selected as a University of Illinois Distinguished Teacher-Scholar

6/14/2021 Huan Song

This premier campus award recognizes scholarly contributions and excellence in teaching. Professor Karin Jensen's Distinguished Teacher-Scholar project will focus on enhancing the remote lab learning experience. 

Written by Huan Song

Professor Karin Jensen has been selected as a University of Illinois Distinguished Teacher-Scholar, commencing in the 2021-2022 academic year. This is a premier campus award recognizing scholarly contributions and excellence in the areas of teaching and learning. The objective of this appointment is to offer talented faculty members not only recognition but an opportunity to engage in an in-depth analysis of the craft and art of teaching. Professor Jennifer Amos was a previous recipient of the Distinguished Teacher-Scholar Award from the department of bioengineering for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Through this appointment, Jensen will receive $7,500 from the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs to complete her year-long Distinguished Teacher-Scholar project centered around enhancing the remote lab learning experience. Her project is titled, “Enhancing online laboratory course delivery with virtual student engagement during synchronous lab sessions.” The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the way courses were delivered. This transition to remote instruction posed additional challenges for lab-based courses like BIOE 202 Cell and Tissue Engineering Lab, co-taught by Jensen and bioengineering professor Pablo Perez-Pinera

The instructors mailed out kits to students with materials like pipette and glucose meters so students could practice their techniques and get quantitative readouts. For example, one activity that students conducted with their kits was measuring the effect of Lactaid pills on the digestion of the lactose enzyme and getting a reading via the glucose meter. The course teaching assistants also created videos for students to observe the labs remotely. 

“Even through these videos and hands-on kits that we sent them, online students still feel disconnected from the lab,” said Jensen. “What we really want to do is to better connect the students with the lab itself and the people working in the lab and get more active participation.”

The focus of Jensen’s Distinguished Teacher-Scholar project will be to pilot a multi-feed video stream of the lab bench and from different angles so that students can actively interact with the lab and their peers and TAs. “The thought process is that we would have the students connect via Zoom on an iPad that's on a moving cart,” said Jensen. “We want the students at home to be able to move the camera around so they can participate in real-time and speak with their instructor.”

Additionally, many labs are taught in a sequential way where students have to move through certain steps in order to have samples for the following week. In these cases, having make-up labs at the end of the semester for students who were not able to attend an in-person lab will feel very disjointed. The more engaged method for lab instruction could help mitigate this challenge. Part of Jensen’s project proposal includes recruiting students who have taken BIOE 202 to compare learning experiences and provide feedback. 

Jensen said, “this type of lab delivery is very important moving forward, not just in a pandemic situation but also thinking about how we can increase accessibility to labs and think creatively about expanding our educational programs.”

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This story was published June 14, 2021.