Connection and problem-solving were the hallmarks of October’s quarterly virtual Lab Technician Meeting in October. Meeting officially for the first time since ABE’s new grant cycle began in July, more than 30 staff from around the world joined in a welcoming and warm virtual gathering. ABE San Diego’s Nick Reeves commented, “I have to say that it is kind of magical to hear from people all around the world—my son is here with me and he is kind of blown away right now.”
Creative solutions from sites were a highlight, as technicians shared the latest COVID-19 impact on their respective sites and their workarounds for kit distribution and school closures. Many sites such as ABE San Francisco and ABE Massachusetts have been providing smaller “demo kits” that teachers can use at home, while ABE San Diego has purchased MiniOne kits for students to practice with virtually. In ABE Greater Los Angeles Area, Master Lab Technician Karin Steinhauer has even created “fake” Lab 5 plates using fluorescent pink paint.
Overall, sites described needing to be more flexible and allow longer loan periods to teachers and schools in response to virtual and hybrid learning models. Sites described the need to provide more reagents and consumables, as students are frequently unable to work in groups; for example, ABE Australia, The Netherlands, and Canada have been preparing for and supporting students in doing labs individually. Technicians also described the ongoing challenge of providing adequate personal protective equipment, particularly as supplies have been short in the health sector as well as school environments. Sites also mentioned the additional pressure that teachers feel for cleaning and sanitizing equipment. The ABE Ireland team has made changes to the kit sign-in sheet requiring teachers to confirm they have sanitized the equipment before returning it, and Germany and the United Kingdom have recommended equipment sit for 72 hours at a minimum after use.
PDIs have varied widely across sites, with Australia hosting a small in-person PDI in August, but most other sites needing to adapt to a blended or remote model, and Puerto Rico reporting exclusive use of LabXchange, as all schools on the island are closed. Many sites are using (or plan to use) the new blended learning Course 1 developed by the Program Office, and Singapore plans to facilitate at least 1 day of home-based learning per month. ABE Washington DC will be providing mini-kits to ABE-trained teachers and is piloting a model where teachers loan items to students for short periods of time.