As COVID-19’s reach and repercussions expand, thousands of universities have made the difficult decision to shutter dorms and move classes online. While some courses can be transitioned relatively easily, others—like science labs—present administrators and faculty with a greater challenge. How can students gain experience and skills from lab assignments when taking science lab courses online?
Teaching Labs Online
Instructors essentially have three options available when creating and teaching an online science lab class: 1) students can observe experiments completed by an instructor via video or teleconference, 2) students can complete labs virtually, or 3) they can complete physical labs at home. Unfortunately, research shows that students who only view experiments (rather than engaging in them) perform worse on conceptual knowledge exams than those who participate in physical or virtual labs (Zacharia and Olympiou, 2011).
While virtual labs offer students the ability to manipulate environments and develop problem solving skills, students miss out on some of the hands-on skills that labs completed with authentic materials can foster. As De Jong et al. (2013) note, “Physical laboratories have advantages when the instructional goal is to have students acquire a sophisticated epistemology of science, including the ability to make sense of imperfect measurements, and to acquire practical skills” (306). While students affected by COVID-19 may not be able to perform their labs in a state-of-the-art university setting, by using materials from one of StraighterLine’s lab courses, they can still get practical experience with authentic materials at home.
Whether students complete a 1-credit lab course for ACE credit or simply use a lab kit to fulfill course objectives in an existing syllabus, StraighterLine can help institutions ensure that students meet general education requirements and are prepared for future semesters.
The StraighterLine Lab Solution
Currently, StraighterLine partners with eScience labs to offer physical labs for six general education science courses. Each of these courses is delivered as a 1 credit course:
- Anatomy & Physiology I Lab
- Anatomy & Physiology II Lab
- General Chemistry I Lab
- General Physics I Lab
- Introduction to Biology Lab
- Microbiology Lab
Kits are affordable (ranging from $79-$219), so they’re perfect for universities and students navigating challenging economic times. Shipping is quick--many kits leave the warehouse the same day the order is placed--and can be sent to both domestic and international addresses. Additionally, all lab kits are ADA compliant, so instructors and administrators can feel confident that students are receiving equal access to education, even when they’re not in the classroom.
What to Expect
StraighterLine’s lab courses have been developed to align with popular general education science courses, so many professors and students will see continuity between their university course and the labs in the lab course they select. Each experiment contributes to course-level learning objectives appropriate for a college-level course. For example, students in Anatomy and Physiology have the opportunity to complete tissue and animal specimen dissections, while students in Physics complete experiments related to friction, momentum, and thermodynamics. All of StraighterLine’s lab courses have been rigorously reviewed by faculty experts and recommended for credit by the American Council on Education (ACE), so instructors can focus on providing guidance and feedback for their students at this difficult time, rather than developing video or virtual lab lessons from scratch.
As soon as students receive their lab kits, they can begin working at their own pace (or the pace established by their professor) on a wide variety of safe experiments designed by Ph.D.s and science educators. Whether faculty choose to use lab materials in conjunction with their own course or whether students complete StraighterLine’s course for ACE credit, students should first verify their kit with StraighterLine. All kits come with a unique code, and students are asked to submit a photograph of their kit. Lab codes are reviewed by StraighterLine science faculty for authenticity to ensure that students are working with safe, high-quality materials. Once a student’s kit has been verified, students are given step-by-step instructions about how to successfully complete each lab. Students document their progress by taking photographs during their experiments and use their results to prepare a comprehensive lab report.
Lab reports require students to answer specific questions aligned with the learning objectives for each lab, and students are required to submit photographic documentation of the results that led them to their conclusions. (For example, in Microbiology Lab, students will need to photograph the growth of bacteria in petri dishes over a specified amount of time.) When students have finished their report, they are able to upload it to StraighterLine’s course platform, where it is reviewed by a team of highly qualified evaluators, most of whom hold terminal degrees in their subject areas, and many of whom have experience teaching at prestigious institutions like the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Of course, if instructors wish to assess their students’ own work, students are welcome to submit their lab reports directly to their instructor instead.
StraighterLine understands that students conducting labs outside of a school setting may need additional assistance. While students still enrolled at their own institution may wish to work with their professor or with the university’s tutoring center, they are also welcome to take advantage of StraighterLine’s support systems as well. StraighterLine offers free online tutoring for all students enrolled in lab courses. In addition to tutoring, students always have access to StraighterLine’s student advisors, who are available to help students with course enrollment, lab orders, platform access, or other general questions.
In short, StraighterLine labs offer rigorous, general education science labs that can be completed remotely and affordably.
If you have questions around how your school can work with StraighterLine, including partnerships, course articulation agreements, or ACE Credit transfer, give us a call today at (844) 407-1242 or visit our partnership website: https://partners.straighterline.com/
Anissa Sorokin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Program Administrator at Stevenson University near Baltimore, Maryland. Anissa’s interdisciplinary background and extensive experience teaching research, writing, and study skills help her demystify college expectations for students online and in her classroom.
Looking for a complete list of our online lab and science courses, visit our science courses page.
De Jong, T., Linn, M. C., & Zacharia, Z. C. (2013). Physical and virtual laboratories in science and engineering education. Science, 340(6130), 305-308.
Zacharia, Z.C., & Olympiou, G. (2011). Physical versus virtual manipulative experimentation in physics learning. Learning and Instruction, 21, 317-331.