Augmented Reality for Animal Science Laboratory Classes

In the age of online teaching as  a result of COVID-19 integrating technology into the classroom has been a hot topic for consideration. I work with the introductory laboratory class in the APSC department at VT and have been thinking about ways to give students a realistic learning experience online. I have settled on the opinion that we can’t achieve our main learning outcome

for students demonstrate the ability to safely work around livestock

while teaching solely online. I feel that safety around livestock requires students to physically interact with the animals and a recreation in virtual reality would not be able to substitute.

However, I do feel that as professors at a university we should integrate technology into our teaching as we are preparing students to enter the agricultural industries that are embracing technology at breakneck speed. Looking ahead to the day that I am teaching my own laboratory courses ( a dream of mine), I have contemplated how I could integrate new technology into the classroom. I have been intrigued by augmented reality ( for those not sure what AR is check out the infographic borrowed from EdTechReview [1] below). I would like to integrate AR into the laboratory by designing environmental pop ups while touring farms (both on campus and off), and working in wet labs (doing dissections, practicing injections or working with feed ingredients for example).  I foresee these working through smart phone apps and maybe someday including a wearable technology such as Google Glass. I think this would allow me to let students work in a more hands off and exploratory way during the class which most closely aligns with my teaching philosophy for laboratory classes/units. The goal is that students take ownership over their time in the lab and work at their own pace exploring the available materials to achieve the learning objectives. I see AR as helping to achieve this goal by giving students extra input while interacting with the supplied lab material and hopefully inspiring curiosity in students. I do worry that including AR in laboratories would distract students by allowing their phones out but one goal I have for all of my classes is to prepare students in workplace competencies such as figuring out how to work in the face of distractions (such as the cell phone).  I also need to work out if including AR puts students safety at risk- this is always a concern when working around animals and allowing distractions is a further concern.

I haven’t heard of many professors integrating AR into many classes especially laboratories but it is fairly new and still quite expensive [2]. I do see effort expended to integrating virtual reality (such as through headsets) in higher ed frequently discussed. For example VT has a virtual reality program with the library. I think that virtual reality is a cool technology especially for laboratories but I don’t see it being feasible on farm which is how I would prefer to teach animal science laboratories. I would like to use virtual reality in place of real world experiences if I was unable to bring students to a location such as a commercial farm or a place that could pose  health hazard to students or if a location is physically inaccessible to my students.

Does anyone have experience working with AR and any insights to share? What do you think of my idea?

  1. Editorial Team EdTechReview. (2017, July 4). Augmented and Virtual Reality Are Revolutionizing Education and Student Learning. Retrieved from
  2.    Roll, N. (2017, July 12). More Than Just Cool? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

10 Simple Rules for surviving grad school during COVID-19

In an attempt at humor in this stressful time I have decided to take a stab at the PLOS Computational Biology “10 simple rules” for this blog. The 10 simple rules collection was started in 2005 with the article “10 simple rules for getting published”[1]. Since then it has grown to a Quick Tips section in the journal and has covered many topics relevant to academics in all career stages. I have found the collection to be a valuable starting place for seeking advice on most aspects of graduate school and academia: writing, presenting, job applications, grant applications, designing research projects, etc. I highly  recommend many of these articles to anyone who comes to me for advice or to talk about graduate school life. With that being said here is my 10 simple rules for surviving grad school during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

  1. Bourne PE, Lewitter F, Markel S, Papin JA (2018) One thousand simple rules. PLoS Comput Biol 14(12): e1006670.

Rule 1 Wash your hands

Why soap works against the coronavirus from coolguides

Really the infographic says it all but remember that CDC guidelines recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds before rinsing them off with water. You should wash your hands much more often than normal in times of viral disease circulation.

Rule 2 Check your webcam and microphone status before any virtual meetings

In general double checking your technology before presenting live is always a good habit. If you are helping coordinate a class online you have my well wishes, be patient it will all work out eventually (or it will be over and forgotten).

Rule 3 Practice social distancing

Don’t go out to eat or drink in public. VT has cancelled most public events and recent guidance from the CDC has suggested avoiding crowds of more than 50 people. The goal of social distancing is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our medical infrastructure from being overwhelmed.

Rule 4 Check out academic social media – for solidarity and a laugh

During this time it is very easy to feel overly isolated from your colleagues. As easy as it is for me to say that I miss you and that you are definitely missed, it is understandable to feel like you are alone and far removed from the academic community (even if you are still on campus). I like @AcadmicsSay because their posts are by real academics about normal life and are really relatable and fun. The point of the exercise is not to follow academic social media but instead to find a way to reengage with the community that has been altered in recent days.

Rule 5 Find out what this means for your specific situation

The past few days has been crazy with regards to the many surprising changes at the university, state, and federal level. Since the situation is still developing changes are guaranteed. Follow VT’s COVID-19 page for updates related to VT and have an open conversation with your faculty advisor about what their exceptions are for you. Make sure you understand what is being asked of you and that you are comfortable with all of the expectations.

Rule 6 Stay hydrated and well rested

All of the change and uncertainty creates an environment ripe for stress and anxiety. Stress can impair your immune function and make you more susceptible to disease. To counter the effects of stress make sure you are sleeping enough (8 hours a night is recommended by experts) and staying hydrated (typically drinking at least 64 oz ~1.9 liters). If you are able spend some time outside relaxing or taking walks. Fresh air and sunlight can improve your mood, reduce stress levels, and staying active can boost your immune system. Basically take time for yourself during this period.

Rule 7 Keep writing

While taking time for yourself also remember to get your work done. Most programs require some form of writing for completion of your degree program. Writing is an excellent activity for academics practicing social distancing during a pandemic. If you are in need of something to write feel free to reach out to me to help with my writing list.

Rule 8 Don’t hoard supplies

The news has been full of stories of shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and cleaning agents. Most of these shortages are a direct result of panic buying and have resulted in some people- typically vulnerable populations- not being able to get needed household items. In keeping with the mindset that We are All Hokies  we should remember that We are All Humans and act in the best interest of the community not ourselves.

Rule 9 Don’t touch your face

Again going back to protecting yourself, remember to wash your hands and don’t touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth). Your face is the main entrance site for this virus to get into your body. If you are washing your hands often the risk of accidentally catching the virus by touching your face is minimized but still try not to do it.

Rule 10 Remember this isn’t going to be forever

As unsettling a time as it currently is eventually our lives will return to normal. Remember to take care of yourself and to teat everyone as you want to be treated. If we all remember that the crisis should blow over sooner rather than later.


This is not designed to be a comprehensive guide but to promote a sense of solidarity among graduate students, especially at VT. I hope you got a chuckle out of this at least.  Stay healthy everyone!


I’m not sure I want to adopt CBL/PBL to my classroom

We talked about case based learning (CBL) and problem/project based learning (PBL) in class this week. I am torn about whether or not I will adopt CBL/PBL for my future classroom. I like the idea of having students take charge of their own learning through cases or projects. I am strongly concerned about the amount of work it takes to complete a good CBL/PBL assignment. Most CBL/PBL classes require a flipped style where students read or watch videos outside of class and prepare for the in class case assignment. If students are taking many classes in a flipped format I worry that they will have to spend an inordinate amount of time outside of class teaching themselves how their class material.

Additionally, the instructor needs to find and alter cases for use in the class, or just make their own from scratch. I have been looking and it I have not been able to find any case studies that could be used for the introduction to animal science courses that I work with.  Instead I think that I want to implement a the POGIL (Process oriented guided inquiry learning) activities for an introductory level course instead of a CBL assignment. One of the purposes of POGIL is to introduce students to course content and have them develop their own understanding of some key concepts. I think it would be best to supplement the POGIL lessons with reading assignments after the fact and some guest lectures to expose students to more content. I would like to develop some problem solving problems for exams or writing assignments for the same class such as having students to identify a problem on a farm from a background story containing some specific details. I don’t think of these as “real” CBL assignments though.

As far as teaching advanced classes I would be intrigued to try to include some CBL/PBL assignments – especially to try to have students connect concepts from prerequisite courses to new material in the course. For example in a Poultry Nutrition course I worked with previously Biochemistry is required. Students are expected to understand how the major macro-molecules (Carbohydrates, Lipids, Proteins) are broken down in the body and in Poultry Nutrition we teach students what to feed chickens to meet the specific nutrient requirements utilizing those pathways. There are available case studies on the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science  that could be modified for use in my Poultry Nutrition class.

I guess I am open to working with CBL/PBL in my classes but I will never teach a Case Based/Problem based class.

Voter say in University governance- Michigan Edition

Michigan is one of 4 states that have public university boards elected directly in general elections. The “big 3” universities of Michigan, the R1 institutions, are elected while the other public universities in the state are appointed by the governor. University of Michigan’s board of regents, Michigan State University’s board of trustees and Wayne State University’s board of governors are comprised of eight members who serve eight year terms and are responsible for the governance of the university. Other public universities in the state are governed by boards appointed by the Governor of the state of Michigan with approval by the state senate [1]. The idea is that the big 3 are accountable to the people of Michigan and the other public universities are accountable to the governor which in principle is a great idea however it has not worked great in recent years as all of the big 3 institutions have been plagued by scandal.

Does this system work?- Probably not. Notable scandals at the Big 3 in the last few years:

Wayne State: The board of governors has failed to vote in favor of the adoption of a code of conduct twice- which would in part ensure the board did not meddle in the management of the university. At this point the Higher Learning Commission is threatening to pull the accreditation of the university if the board does not adopt the code of conduct. The Higher Learning Commission had given the university until March 24th to adopt a code of conduct, the next board meeting is March 20th. Why is the university in this situation? The board has been fighting over the President of the University Roy Wilson and his plans for the future of the university and specifically the medical school’s affiliation with hospitals in the region. The board is seemingly split between Pro-Wilson and Anti-Wilson sentiment since 2018 and the stalemate has caused at least one board member to resign in 2019. [2,3]

University of Michigan: In 2018, a report was released by the Detroit Free Press revealing that the university has been funneling investments into alumni owned companies, who are likely to return the favor through future donations. [4]The board also voted to hike tuition but direct less money to university operations, freeing up tuition dollars to be given to alumni. In 2019, the university board of regents was under fire for failing to support the Flint and Dearborn campuses in comparison to the amount of money directed to the flagship Ann Arbor campus. [5] In 2020, the University placed the Provost on leave following sexual misconduct allegations while the university investigates him. [6]

Michigan State University: The Nassar scandal continues to plague the university. To this day the board of trustees is continuously criticized for the many decisions they have made regarding the Nassar scandal. Listing all of those decisions is beyond the scope of this blog but I recommend you check out the news headlines of this search from Michigan Radio.

It is also important to note that other public universities in the state of Michigan have had scandals in the past few years, Eastern Michigan University just settled a title IX lawsuit from 2018 related to its elimination of 2 women’s sports teams due to financial difficulties. [7]

Does it work in the other states? Colorado, Nebraska, and Nevada seem to be doing fine with their elected university officials as far as I can tell. The general trend though is that most people don’t understand what a Regent/Trustee/Governor of the university is expected to do so the boards are oftentimes less effective than governor appointed ones. It doesn’t have to be this way though, boards that are not beholden to the governing political party or the governor could break with the political consensus of the state and shepherd in positive changes that would benefit the university, such as in Colorado where the board of University of Colorado approved benefits for same-sex partners. [8]

In recent years people have called for amending the constitution of Michigan to change how university governance boards are appointed. [9, 10, 11] I agree that the system in Michigan needs to be reformed in part. As a voter I appreciated being able to vote in the leader of the university I attended; however, the joke has always been that you vote in the crazy, third party candidate to your rival school. I think we should keep a fraction of the seats up for general election but allow the governor to place in a few candidates. Such a compromise might be able to prevent not be able to prevent such scandals as we have seen in recent years but it may help to stabilize the boards and remove the partisan influence that one columnist at Michigan Radio says is running rampant. [12] We must do something because right now Michigan higher education seems to be the butt of the joke.


Integrating active learning with multiple perspectives helps students to succeed

I have had a variety of great higher education learning experiences that have guided me on my path to pursuing my PhD in Animal science at VT now. I had the opportunity to attend on full scholarship the 2 summer semester program of the Midwest poultry consortium where I earned a certificate in poultry science and decided to go to graduate school. These classes were great, not only because they were tailored to exactly what we all wanted to learn about- poultry science- but also because they also used integrated learning experiences with multiple expert professionals working together. In my first summer semester we had afternoon labs in avian physiology: where we worked with quail, took EKGs of chickens, and fed food coloring to laying hens to see how it impacted the yolk color of their eggs; and poultry processing and food science: where we learned about the slaughter process by following the entire process with our own bird, we then learned how products were created and ate a lot of great turkey. The next summer our afternoons were filled with simulated research in nutrition, and doing diagnostic necropsies with real submissions under the supervision of the diagnostic lab staff. All of these activities served to reinforce the morning lecture contents and to provide a new environment that is reflective of the real world in poultry science. I hope to bring this style of teaching to my own classroom and to hopefully impact a student the same way I was impacted. I know it is extremely challenging to successfully integrate such lab and lectures so I am trying to adopt a course coordinator approach to teaching the introductory courses to expose students to many experts and opportunities at the university. Ideally this approach would set students up for identifying areas of interest and forming connections to get involved in research or other opportunities related to those interests. As an instructor I would never be able to accomplish this for students alone.