Design and use of digital mimics for remote learning

Akil, Lina and Breen, David and Ford, Steven (2021) Design and use of digital mimics for remote learning. In: Analytical Research Forum 2021, 2021-06-15 - 2021-06-16, Online.

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The requirement in Scotland for online/remote teaching during the first two university semesters of the 2020-21 academic year, meant that staff needed to redesign significant parts of the practical curriculum. While interactive online lab teaching resources are available (as an example see reference 1), they can be difficult to adapt to existing learning outcomes. Additionally, online resources often cannot be conjugated sequentially in a way that allows a student (and their mistakes) to follow them through the experiment from 'start to finish'. The authors designed and built 'digital mimics' to allow students to perform the normal experiments in silico using Excel spreadsheets for both UV analysis and HPLC experiments. Methods The digital mimics consisted of three components: solution preparation, spectra/trace generation and analysis. Solution preparation allowed students to do several serial dilutions with fixed glassware sizes. The resultant concentration calculations included volumetric errors and the results were hidden from students. UV spectra and HPLC traces were generated using Gaussian and exponentially modified Gaussian (2) equations respectively. The models contained simulated noise generated using an accumulative MOD expression of a prime number: this avoided the volatile RAND/RANDBETWEEN Excel functions. Students extracted their results by selecting absorbances, or performing peak integration. Several cells and worksheets were hidden from students, thereby ensuring that they were only presented with the information they would normally see in a real lab. Results and conclusion The use of Excel in this manner is a straightforward way of designing digital mimics that can align with existing teaching material (including assessment and marking schemes). Furthermore, Excel is relatively accessible for most University students, and works on both Mac and PCs. The use of digital mimics allows students to make mistakes and rectify them before assignment submission (or the real lab). Spreadsheets were shared online under a CC BY-SA licence (3). This approach was also adapted to mimic tablet manufacture using published mathematical models.