JoVE in Action: How to Create a Unique Lab Project for an Online Biotechnology Course

Supriya Kamath
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JoVE in Action is a series of blog posts highlighting how STEM educators around the world have used JoVE to support their remote teaching efforts. We hope these stories will be useful for instructors looking for effective ways to deliver their science and lab courses online or in hybrid formats. 


Dr. Carlos Goller is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Biotechnology Program at North Carolina State University. Four years ago, Dr. Goller and his colleague Dr. Stefanie Chen, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, designed an 8-week high-throughput discovery course, which aims to introduce the use of automation and high-throughput approaches in molecular biology. A key component of this course is the use of lab automation equipment such as liquid handling instruments. In fall 2020, however, Dr. Goller had to adapt his lab-based course to meet the new challenges of distance learning. 

Dr. Carlos Goller

To help meet these challenges, Dr. Goller looked to JoVE videos, which he had used previously for a yeast genetics lab and a metagenomics course. He reached out to the JoVE Customer Success team for help with locating videos that would illustrate the required lab techniques and concepts; while in conversation with a JoVE Curriculum Specialist, however, he saw that he could incorporate JoVE into his course in two ways — not just as a resource to help students visualize how key lab equipment is used, but also as a template for an engaging, manuscript-based lab assignment. 

Observing the use of lab equipment, outside the lab

In the absence of physical access to the laboratory, “JoVE videos allowed our students to view different liquid handling robots and their applications,” says Dr. Goller. In addition, he notes that the videos also helped to provide views of equipment and applications that were not offered by the course. Because Dr. Goller’s course was online and asynchronous, he shared the JoVE videos via the course discussion forum, using them as a starting point for conversations about the use of automation in scientific research. 

“We used three articles identified from the syllabus mapping service that aligned with our course goals and featured different techniques and liquid handling instruments,” he said. Students were required to watch a JoVE video illustrating an automation process, and then share relevant resources or examples of other technologies related to the process. Dr. Goller also challenged students to provide unique information that was not already offered by their peers in the forum. 

Writing a ready-to-submit JoVE manuscript for a virtual lab project

Ordinarily, students in Dr. Goller’s course would have had the opportunity to use Opentrons OT-2 liquid handlers, and program them to perform different assays. “Troubleshooting the scripts and thinking about experimental design and limitations of using robotics were key learning objectives of the lab component,” he notes. So when Dr. Goller’s course was transformed into a virtual format, he sought to develop a project that would allow students to get a better sense of the applications of high-throughput discovery science, and the considerations involved in conducting it, without access to any of the equipment they would normally use.

To this end, Dr. Goller developed a group project where students would have to write a ready-to-submit manuscript focused on a biological application of automation using Opentron OT-2 liquid handlers. Dr. Goller divided his class of 11 students — six graduate students and five undergraduates from different majors and programs —  into two interdisciplinary groups, provided a paragraph describing the biological question to address, the organism to be used, and the kits that were wanted. The students then had to develop a proposal for an experiment and write it out using the JoVE manuscript format, for potential publication as a JoVE video.  

“The format of JoVE articles requires researchers to research, write, and provide numerous details on the experimental methodology,” said Dr. Goller. “This aligned well with the goals for the course and my teaching philosophy to have students create resources that would benefit their career development and help other students.” 

Takeaways from the lab project

Of the two groups of students working on the project, one worked on automating RNA isolation and purification from the bacterium Delftia acidovorans for expression studies. The second group worked on isolating DNA from several strains of Delftia acidovorans, and then making libraries for sequencing using the Illumina DNA Flex kit on a liquid handler. Although the lack of access to instruments and reagents made the assignment a challenging one, Dr. Goller notes, the students seemed engaged and wrote extremely detailed manuscripts that met the brief. The two groups also peer-reviewed one another’s drafts and provided feedback. The assignments were submitted at the end of the semester.

To help others learn about the applications of high-throughput approaches in molecular biology, the students have posted their final portfolios here. Dr. Goller also hopes to encourage students to submit their manuscripts to JoVE for publication, but would like that to be a student-driven experience. “I think if we have JoVE articles that are student-written this will increase buy-in and ownership for future participants in the course,” he says. 

For other instructors working within the constraints of hybrid or virtual learning, Dr. Goller advises taking a new perspective on existing resources, and thinking about how they can be adapted in unique ways to meet the needs of the science classroom: “I think we are all learning and, while experimenting with new technologies or ways of integrating resources can be intimidating, it offers opportunities to help our students learn, review, and make connections to content that we could otherwise not have made… even in person!”


If you would like to learn how to effectively incorporate JoVE video resources into your hybrid, remote, or in-person science course, request a free consultation from our Customer Success team.