Dr. Sandra Buerger: On the Cutting Edge of Laboratory Learning for Distant Students
Online Prerequisites Faculty Profile
There are creative new ways to provide online learners with the laboratory experiences for those pursuing health, science, and medical degrees or looking to expand their knowledge in their current occupation.
Sandra Buerger, PhD, is helping to lead that charge.
Buerger has been teaching online science classes at MGH Institute of Health Professions since 2013, so she has seen first-hand how labs for students studying from a distance have evolved. Dr. Buerger is currently working directly with seven lab instructors in the MGH Institute’s Online Prerequisites for the Health Professions program to maximize outcomes in laboratory education for distance learners.
“A lot of colleges are still reluctant to accept labs taken by online students, despite how advanced they have become in recent years,” Dr. Buerger notes. “But we know that they can get the same hands-on experience when performing the lab at home as from being in a physical classroom, and students can do the work around their job and life schedules. It’s a great way to learn so they can continue working towards getting their degree.”
Most students now receive laboratory resources shipped to their home from a vendor in scientific materials. Each kit is custom-designed by the course instructor to meet specific learning objectives, and comes with instructions for general safety as well as steps for conducting each experiment.
This hands-on experience is even included in Anatomy and Physiology labs. Although students in these courses learn primarily through interactive software, they also dissect a preserved squid to experience the planning, care, and skill that will be required for dissection in graduate study.
Dr. Buerger recently implemented a pilot program that provides students with a low-cost digital microscope designed to record photos and video of slides they have created from their lab kits. Students then can share the experiences and outcomes of their experiments in discussion with their classmates.
“It’s an exciting time to be involved in taking online labs to a new level,” says Dr. Buerger, who has a research background in microbiology and received her doctorate from Northeastern University. “We’re improving things all the time to enrich and enhance the student experience.”
In addition to her research interests, she also follows trends in STEM education, including problem-based and project-based learning, and career development for undergraduate and graduate students. She has taught classes both in the traditional classroom and online in Introductory Biology, Microbiology, Environmental Science/Ecology, and on the social impact and interpretation of science by society.
While many students take online courses at the IHP so they can pursue a new career in health care in fields including nursing, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, occupational therapy, or speech-language pathology, Lynn Foord, PhD, director of the Institute’s Online Prerequisites for the Health Professions program, notes that physicians, doctors of osteopathic medicine, and chiropractors are among those who have participated in online science prerequisite courses.