Providing An Authentic Chemistry Learning Experience for Military Students: Overcoming the Barriers of Time and Space

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Military students offer unique challenges for online science courses. This session will discuss examples of hands-on laboratory investigations and assessments that enable students who require asynchronous learning to still experience an authentic, data-driven, science learning experience. Though chemical in nature, these examples can be applied across scientific disciplines.


Dr. Jim Brinson has over 15 years of experience as an environmental scientist, author, consultant, educational technologist, instructional designer, online science learning expert, and higher education faculty member. He completed his B.A, M.S., and Ph.D. at Indiana State University and his post-graduate work at both the University of Nebraska and the University of Maryland, and he currently researches and teaches courses in ecology, conservation, sustainability, and research methods at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. His current research interests also include the online teaching and learning of science, especially the efficacy of non-traditional laboratory learning spaces (virtual, remote, blended, etc.) and their associated technologies. He has over 50 professional publications, presentations, invited talks, and media articles, and has received awards for his research related to the teaching and learning of science.

Extended Abstract

Students who serve active duty in the United States Military, especially those who are deployed internationally, and their spouses and/or dependents, offer a unique set of challenges within higher education. Due to their responsibilities and unpredictable schedules, coupled with their geographical, temporal, technological, accessibility, and logistical limitations, they are unable to participate in traditional, synchronous face-to-face classroom events and schedules (Hamrick et al., 2013; Collins et al., 2015), and thus are increasingly reliant on online education (Ford & Vignare, 2015). Military learners require a separate subset of online teaching best practices (Brown & Gross, 2011; Smucny & Stover, 2013). This can be particularly challenging for science courses with a required laboratory component. Given that the laboratory experience likely plays the central role in science education (Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004; Hofstein & Mamlok-Naaman, 2007; Lunetta, Hofstein, & Clough, 2007; Ma & Nickerson, 2006; Satterthwait, 2010; Singer, Hilton, & Schweingruber, 2006; Tobin, 1990), providing an authentic science laboratory experience in the online classroom is of utmost concern. How can online students, especially those spread across remote areas of the globe like many military students, feasibly participate in meaningful and rigorous laboratory activities in which they use physical manipulatives, laboratory equipment, and scientific instrumentation? How can they generate their own authentic data, analyze it, use it to draw conclusions about scientific phenomena, and reflect critically on their work, without being in a formal/traditional laboratory environment?

According to Ford and Vignare (2015), support for military student learning (and retention) should include multiple learning modalities. The online classroom typically does not involve hands-on learning, but hands-on learning is a hallmark of science education. Though current research suggests it is possible to meet laboratory learning objectives using virtual or remote laboratory methods (Brinson, 2015), blending them with a traditional hands-on option caters more to the multi-modal needs of military learners. This blended approach was used to design the laboratory component of a general chemistry course at American Public University System (APUS), an institution that was founded originally as American Military University (AMU) by a Marine Corps Naval Flight Officer and instructor at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Amphibious Warfare School. AMU’s mission from its inception has been to offer career-relevant education for a mobile population of military learners with unique needs. The overwhelming majority (88%) of current APUS students are working adults, 74% of the student population are active duty Military, Guard, Reserve, or Veterans, and over 300 APUS faculty and staff are veterans.

This presentation focuses specifically on a 4.0 credit General Chemistry II (second semester) course. A custom laboratory kit from eScience Labs containing green chemicals, glassware, instrumentation, and hardware is shipped to students worldwide, and this particular kit will be shown and demonstrated in this presentation. This partnership with eScience Labs overcame the financial and logistical barrier of meeting international shipping regulations and delivering laboratory equipment and materials across international waters and borders, and even into remote regions of military deployment. Such a partnership also transferred liability from the university, as eScience Labs accepted responsibility for all legal matters and insurance. It also alleviated concerns related to warehousing of materials, as eScience Labs handled all aspects of storage and inventory as well.

Additionally, students receive Vernier digital instrumentation (temperature probe, pH probe, and LabQuest2 data collection interface) for data acquisition and analysis (shipped separately from the kit). Lab activities include, but are not limited to, graphing and general data analysis, lab safety and introduction to chemical instrumentation, molar mass and freezing point depression, molar mass and vapor density, reaction rates, molar volume of gases, equilibrium constants, preparation of buffer solutions, standardization of a solution, acid-base titrations, titration indicators, oxidation-reduction reactions, electrochemical series, and electrochemical cells.

Students follow a guided procedure (examples provided in the presentation) to physically generate their own data in response to the task presented. To preserve academic integrity, as well as maintain a record of student identity, students are required to take pictures and videos at various benchmarks within the laboratory procedure, which include, but are not limited to, specific practical skills, laboratory setups, taking measurements, validating product yields, validating noted observations, and answering post-lab questions. All pictures additionally require the student’s face, and a label with lab name, date, lab title, and description of the picture. Videos require students to pan the laboratory workspace, and the student must be visible as he/she starts the recording, films the required footage, and then be visible again as the recording is stopped. The video cannot be edited or spliced during the recording.

Students use the Vernier LabQuest2 interface to graph their data in real time, then statistically analyze their results. Tables, graphs, charts, and statistical analysis can be exported as PDF files, and sent to the student either via email or through network data sharing. These files can then be collated and uploaded into the virtual classroom. Post-lab assessments, examples of which will be demonstrated in this presentation, involve submission of data in the aforementioned formats, benchmark and identity verification using digital media (pictures or video), mathematical calculations involving student-generated data, self-analysis of performance, assessing pronunciation of scientific terminology (via audio submission), and textual responses.
Overall, this presentation will practically demonstrate how science laboratory learning objectives can be met in a non-traditional and asynchronous format that caters to military students, with a level of authenticity and hands-on learning that is comparable to face-to-face learning. Student satisfaction surveys will also be shared.


Brinson, J.R. (2015). Learning outcome achievement in non-traditional (virtual and remote) versus traditional (hands-on) laboratories: A review of the empirical research. Computers & Education, 87, 218-237. DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2015.07.003.

Brown P. A. & Gross, C. (2011). Serving those who have served – managing veteran and military student best practices. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 59(1), 45-49. DOI: 10.1080/07377363.2011.547061.

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Hamrick, F., Rumman, C., & Associates (2013). Called to serve: A handbook on student veterans and higher education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

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Hofstein, A., & Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2007). The laboratory in science education: the state of the art. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 8(2), 105-107.

Lunetta, V. N., Hofstein, A., & Clough, M. (2007). Learning and teaching in the school science laboratory: an analysis of research, theory, and practice. In N. Lederman, & S. Abel (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Science Education (pp. 393-441). Mahwah, NJ, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ma, J., & Nickerson, J. V. (2006). Hands-on, simulated, and remote laboratories: a comparative literature review. ACM Computing Surveys, 38(3), 1-24.

Satterthwait, D. (2010). Why are ‘hands-on’ science activities so effective for student learning? Teaching Science—The Journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, 56(2), 7-10.

Singer, S. R., Hilton, M. L., & Schweingruber, H. A. (Eds.). (2006). America's Laboratory Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC, USA: National Research Council.

Smucny, D., & Stover, M. (2013). Enhancing teaching and learning for active-duty military students. ASA Footnotes, 41(3), 1-8. Retrieved from

Tobin, K. (1990). Research on science laboratory activities: In pursuit of better questions and answers to improve learning. School Science and Mathematics, 90(5), 403-418.