Insights Arising from Virtual Laboratory Experiences of 2020. A Focus on Financial and Ethical Challenges of Face-to-Face and Online Physiology Laboratories

Voula Gaganis, Elizabeth Beckett, Julia Choate, Nancy Aguilar-Roca, Sarah Etherington, Michelle French, Charlotte Haigh, Derek Scott, John Zubek, Terrence Sweeney

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstractpeer-review


Ten physiology educators from Australia, U.K., U.S.A. and Canada, shared reflections of experiences through the rapid transition from on-campus face-to-face physiology laboratories to a remote online mode in response to the COVID-19 associated restrictions of 2020. Although not a primary focus of the reflection study, our discussions prompted an important question: Does a switch to online laboratories solve the financial and ethical issues typically associated with face-to-face physiology practicals? Over the last 30 years there has been a notable shift in the mode of delivery of physiology laboratories. Classical wet-lab demonstrations on-campus using animal tissues have gradually been phased out or replaced by student-led group investigations where students are both subjects and researchers. Whilst some physiology departments have managed to retain classical physiology laboratories, others have yielded to financial and ethical pressures to reduce or replace the use of animal tissues in face-to-face and on-campus wet-labs with alternate laboratories including online and remote delivery using emerging digital technologies and innovative methods such as virtual reality. Despite the gradual changes, expectations are that physiology courses should include a practical laboratory component, and, up until early 2020, such classes were typically hosted face-to-face and on-campus. Our discussions as an international group of physiologists revealed that despite our enthusiasm for retaining physiology laboratories as an important component of the curriculum, there are financial and ethical issues that arise from their inclusion. In mid-2020, we reflected on these issues as our students participated in remote physiology laboratories accessed off-campus. The financial pressures and ethical obligations of keeping on-campus laboratories have, in some cases, surmounted the financial capabilities of institutions. What eventuated from these discussions is that many of us will continue with a hybrid model of physiology laboratories with some face-to-face on campus laboratories supported with interactive digital content.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
JournalThe FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Issue numberS1
Publication statusPublished - May 2021
EventExperimental Biology 2021 -
Duration: 27 Apr 202130 Apr 2021 (Event overview)


  • Conference abstract
  • COVID-19
  • on-campus teaching
  • on-campus laboratories
  • remote teaching
  • remote laboratories


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