Keep Calm and Teach Biochemistry to Postgraduate Students in COVID-19 Times: Pros and Cons – Sepici Dinçel – – Teaching in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Along with developments at all levels of education over the past decades, the need to reassess systems and rebuild educational tools has arisen in the field of higher education. While researching alternative educational materials for our undergraduates, we found ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. No one had practical skills to combat and prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. In Turkey, the first preventive measure lied during the three-week break for all levels of education in March 2020. This was impractical at the postgraduate level. Since we couldn’t stop our research, we had to think creatively and make a quick transition to a faster organization.
In addition to their postgraduate training program, members of my group hold different positions in various health services. Most of the group members are at different levels of the doctoral program of the Department of Medical Biochemistry of Gazi University and the Graduate School of Health Sciences. In addition, a student in the first year residency program in medical biochemistry of the Faculty of Medicine and a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Graduate School of Natural and Applied Sciences were awarded a scholarship in my thematic area of toxicology. Their background consists of chemistry and biology of natural and applied sciences, as well as medicine. They have all been collaborating on various projects for at least a year.
As for the worst days to come, the first day of restrictions, the predominant problem was learning and identifying the optimal communication tool. It had to be user-friendly, compatible with our various computer systems and avoid additional costs for the students. We have started downloading various online meeting programs like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, Jitsi, and Zoom to our computers, mobile phones and laptops. We were not familiar with these programs and had never held an online group meeting before. Although they were extremely basic, it was important for the students to familiarize themselves with these programs. Finally, we chose to use Zoom, limited to 40 min, as well as Google Meet.
In the early days and experiences of online meetings, coming together through this software was boring, we didn’t perceive everyone’s emotions. Over the days, we got used to it. We learned how to facilitate, discuss and learn from online meetings and our behaviors adapted to these courses. So these periods of “sad, time-limited online lessons” became regular get-togethers and we started expressing and manifesting our feelings, perhaps at times stronger, sharing jokes and discussing our feelings. everyday life. Instead of having our routine weekly lab meetings, we met more frequently, planned out what we had to discuss, and everyone had to listen to each other and be on time. Since we did not leave our homes, we had more free time for meetings. We gained more in-depth knowledge of IT technical issues and problem solving, as well as completed the online worklist and met the deadline. Also, we had a lot to celebrate, which we couldn’t do, and we missed going out for dinner.
Since 2012,1 I have made an effort to use, teach and familiarize myself with the virtual learning materials. In our universities, we had urgently needed these materials due to the increased number of students in our laboratory classes. Although I have presented many online virtual training programs to my group, most did not spend time on them. However, they had time during the COVID-19 shutdown. We all understand the importance of having alternatives and being prepared for the second options. Our university’s scientific research projects department refused our virtual learning proposal because it was not a priority. I have had the opportunity to point out and stress the need to develop new applications using alternative learning techniques and resources for modern experimentation in biochemistry laboratory education at different educational institutions.
The first three months were tough for the wet lab and research as we completed the ongoing work within days and the in-person research was halted. In the first 2 months, the topic of discussion was COVID-19. Students who attended the various webinars shared the updated knowledge and discussed the results of the COVID-19 lab. At each meeting, one of us discussed hematology, cytokine storms, blood gases, and routine lab results. We did not interrupt the theoretical biochemistry course; Furthermore, we have explored this topic at a deeper level than usual. We had more time to work on our complete data, to write and finish proofreading a lab book as well as a translated manual. We have all used our time more efficiently than ever.
What happened to our laboratory during our experiments? The ongoing experiments were completed and the research assistants used the lab one by one. Subsequently, we stopped the search for 2 months. The first weeks of June marked the return to a “new normal” daily life, we opened our laboratory to complete the exceptional experiments with simple and daily methods. We limited our hours in the lab and worked in shifts. Those familiar with laboratory practice have made good progress. However, the new arrivals had to stop for at least 3 months. Now we don’t know exactly when the safe days will return, allowing us to return to the lab. The Spring 2019-2020 and Fall / Spring 2020-2021 academic years have moved to an online format for postgraduate students. They were gotten rid of practical work and the only learning tools for postgraduates were virtual webinars and online courses. We did a lot of paperwork and everyone learned how to write a research article. Other vital scientific activities regarding career development and profile building, such as reading (new articles / reviews were introduced at each meeting), publication and oral presentation (seminars with simple presentations) were conducted during online meetings as part of lab meeting activities. The group members did not have time to feel bad as they had to work, be active participants and improve their communication skills.
Our postgraduate program lasts at least 2 years for the thesis, and our students have had the opportunity to extend their time. In the last 6 months of experiencing COVID-19, although we were away from the lab, we have performed well online. The pupils discovered their weaknesses and improved them. Nevertheless, for the next 6-8 months, we plan to use more interactive programs, develop virtual skills to produce our own materials and compare them to other countries as well (Figure 1).
I would also like to thank the FEBS Education Committee which made it possible for Ambassadors to come together through their organization in 2016. Since 2016, we have organized 2-day workshops, discussed educational issues and organized quick briefings. on the life science education systems of our countries every year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, taking into account the experiences of other countries and knowledge of education systems allowed me to reach my students and contribute to educational programs. From my perspective, 2020 was meant to be the year in which I would share all educational activities with various organizations in different cities with my colleagues and students. Although I have had to cancel classes, symposia and face-to-face workshops, we will meet online.
Having nothing, being online, staying at home and working on science online through virtual techniques will be successful.