INND13: Day 1 – Session 5 – Pioneering Online Science Lab


In 2006, Sinclair began work on fully online degrees, which brings up the big challenge… How do you teach science online? After much internal discussion, they began to develop a fully online Astronomy Lab course. Using a team of faculty, Instructional designer, graphic designers, and flash developers, they created all the course content from scratch.

The course is housed in ANGEL, and includes text and multimedia elements to deliver instruction and assessments. As always, the most difficult part of creating an online science lab course is making certain that the lab sessions are equivalent, regardless of delivery method.

Established six standards for online labs, to make certain that onlinelabs are equivalent to face to face labs. Online labs must be:

  1. Intuitive
  2. Clear instructions
  3. accessible
  4. Reusable
  5. Platform Independent
  6. Meets Learning Objectives

Engaging Online Astronomy Students

Received a grant to explore possibility of putting lab online. Initially put materials online for face-to-face students to explore before developing and launching fully online version. Face to face students were impressed by online resources and their feedback encouraged faculty to move forward with development. Course Materials include step-by-step video instructions which demonstrate how students are to complete labs and interactive flash-based activities which students complete to meet learning objectives. In some cases, the web-based versions were easier for student to use and helped foster greater comprehension of course material. Outside publisher resources were employed to further enhance course materials where it was not feasible for the college to produce the materials in-house. Utilized 4 team fishbowl discussion forums. Fishbowl forums allow teams to post to each other and allow non-team members to view other teams’ observations but not respond inside of forum.

Immersing Online Students in Biology

As programs expanded, online Anatomy and Physiology course was needed. Online class mirrors face to face outcomes, objectives, and tests. “Articulation lab” has students open a virtual box of bones and assemble the structures as indicated. Provides direct and instant feedback to students, and assesses their knowledge of material. Also developed Android app “Skeletal Lab” for articulation exercises. “Blood Smear Lab” reproduces blood smear activities as done in class. Students perform all adjustments on virtual microscope to get blood cells into focus. Cells contain pop-ups which describe individual formed elements. Also contains a fetal pig dissection with video of real live dead pig dissection and then flash activities where students virtually dissect a pig and review various parts.

And the question comes up… Is the online lab equivalent to the traditional lab? In my mind, it depends.

What are the course objectives?
How will the course impact the students in later classes?

But this is something that will require deeper consideration and much greater analysis…


One thought on “INND13: Day 1 – Session 5 – Pioneering Online Science Lab

  1. “What are the course objectives?
    “How will the course impact the students in later classes?”

    These are indeed the most important questions. As a subset of course objectives, you should also consider the lab objectives when designing the labs.

    You may find my approach of interest. Film real experiments. Embed the videos in a full learning scaffold. Provide highly interactive software that allows students to take their own data from the videos. Data are not predetermined. Students use their own care and judgment. It’s just like a real lab and it works for chemistry as well as other subjects.

    I’m a former chemistry professor at a large northeastern university and a graduate of Caltech and Columbia University. The software is world-class.

    We haven’t done much with astronomy and anatomy/physiology but have done much with earth science, physics, chemistry, and biology.

    I’m very interested in your astronomy. See for contact information.

    Harry Keller

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