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The Online Learning Consortium and MERLOT joined STEM educators for OLC Ideate Labs for Online STEM: Innovating STEM Education 2020 on August 19-21, 2020. This free virtual expo showcased a wide range of virtual and distance labs designed to support online STEM education, offered by both commercial and open educational resource (OER) providers. This event brought educators and providers together, not only offering expert guidance on how best to deploy the different types of virtual labs to achieve successful learning outcomes, but also in centering educator use-case virtual lab stories.

Event Details

The upending impact of the COVID-19 outbreak upon higher education has created an immediate demand for delivering laboratory experiences in online settings. This event was intentionally designed to foster conversations, exploration and relationship-building between higher education leaders and established online labs providers, organized around 4 strategic themes/questions:

  • WHY CONSIDER VIRTUAL LABS? If you are just getting started, what are the unique affordances of digital, virtual, and distance labs and strategies for intentionally incorporating them into STEM educational spaces into the future?
  • HOW TO GET BUY-IN FOR EXPLORING VIRTUAL LABS? How do you center engagement, welcome exploration/failure, and ensure quality within virtual, digital, and distance labs, so people can try these innovations?
  • HOW DO YOU PLAN FOR SUSTAINING SUCCESS WITH VIRTUAL LABS? How do you connect with stakeholders to discuss policy, resources, training, and the relationship between innovative virtual / digital / distance content and certifying / governing / professional bodies?
  • HOW DO YOU SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENT VIRTUAL LABS? What are demonstrated strategies for implementing virtual, digital, and distance labs with sustainability, affordability, accessibility, and equity in mind?

The OLC and MERLOT facilitated a three-day virtual exposition of virtual laboratory curriculum and tools (e.g., AR/VR, animations, simulations/models, simulations of real experiments, and labs at home) using the Zoom video conference system. They invited commercial and non-commercial partners to submit proposals for 45-minute sessions aimed at providing you information about tools and strategies that would support the implementation of technology in your STEM labs. The selected Lab providers presented their curriculum, pedagogy, assessment methods, tools and requirements in dialogue with STEM faculty and educational leaders who were looking to either enhance their in-person lab course experience with some virtual activities, replace the lab entirely with a virtual or at-home option, or who were simply curious about the laboratory options available at a distance. Anchored in the four major themes above, the event created intentional space for building meaningful connections between technology partners and educators, creating multiple entry points for various levels of Lab adoption, as well as authentic storytelling around the implementation of Lab technologies and the (re)imagining in community of the future of Online Labs for STEM.

How OLC Ideate Works

In planning the format of the salons, we led with a driving design question – how might we make our online experiences together truly valuable and interactive?

Borrowing from emerging session styles (including our own popular OLC Collaborate events), we envisioned a series of salons that would require hosts to consider how they might balance the following elements in thirty (45) minutes:

  • A brief explanation or provocation that ends with a challenge or driving question
  • A series of activities to engage participants in reflection and collaboration
  • A synthesis of the collaborative work of the group with a closure or call to action
  • The production of some sort of new idea, resource or artifact to be shared out after the salon

Part lightning talk, part collaborative session, and part design sprint, each salon is structured to be highly interactive and participatory. Salon leaders will guide participants through discussions on topics related to a series of themes that the OLC, MERLOT, and educational partners identified as central to research and initiatives within digital learning innovation related to Online STEM Labs.

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Day 1
Day 1 Welcome Event
11:30am – 12:15pm ET
OLC Ideate Labs for Online STEM Day 1 Orientation
12:30pm – 1:15pm ET
Coffee Talk: STEM Storytelling
3:00pm – 4:00pm ET
OLC Ideate Saloon: A Very Happy Happy Hour
6:00pm – 7:00pm ET

The first day of the event kicked off with a welcome, providing the history of how this event came to be. The welcome was followed by an orientation to VoiceThread and the unique affordances of the asynchronous Salons, which supported community-building alongside session presentations. A Technology Support Fair was an additional highlight for Day 1 for those who are finding they need or want assistance in navigating the day. Given that a major goal of the event was to facilitate storytelling through online and digital modalities, Day 1 included both synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to engage with others in sharing their Lab stories. Day 1 closed with a 45-minute Ideate Saloon, full of casual social networking and virtual fun.

Day 2 & Day 3

View the detailed agenda for Days 2 & 3 on this grid and/or view a printable version.

Days 2 & 3 of the event featured our synchronous Salons. Both days began with a keynote inspired Community Salon, which situated this event in the current STEM educational context and drove conversation through provocations related to where we need to go. Programming for both days then moved into two major half-day blocks, each anchored around one of the major event themes. Morning remarks served as a transition into 45-minute synchronous Salons. Whether they took the form of a Discussion Salon (whole group) or a Cohort Salon (breakout rooms) these Salons were key moments for thought leadership, administrators, technology partners, and the educator community as a whole to make connections and dialogue around the implementation of Lab technologies and how we might (re)imagine the future of Online Labs for STEM. Days 2 and 3 also featured mid-day Coffee Talks, additional asynchronous engagement opportunities, and of course a fun and engaging Saloon for lightweight and fun community building.

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Access the event recordings

Live Session Recordings

All OLC Ideate Labs for Online STEM sessions were recorded and are available to OLC members. If you are already a member, you can access those here. Please note that you will need to sign in to your OLC account. Not a member yet? We’d love for you to join! In addition to OLC Ideate recordings, you will have access to a range of exciting and transformational professional development opportunities. For information on how to join and why, visit the OLC Professional Memberships page.

Asynchronous Sessions

All asynchronous sessions will remain open to the public. You can engage with those, as well as contribute to the OLC Ideate Labs for Online STEM Community Storytelling Forum by visiting the event VoiceThread space.

Contribute to the development of a National STEM survey

The OLC Ideate Labs for Online STEM team partnered with the STEM Survey Working Group to discuss the online STEM education and labs. In addition to leading two research-focused sessions during the event, the STEM Survey Working Group reviewed their progress in the development of a comprehensive national survey on the state of online STEM education. With their partners and led by Jeff Seaman of the Babson Research Group, they are exploring the online STEM landscape through the lens of faculty, institutional leadership, researchers, and policymakers. For additional information please read their blog. Their project is made possible through a partnership with Every Learner Everywhere, Carolina Distance Learning, DigitalEd, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Biointeractive, along with a number of experts and institutions.

If you are interested in contributing to this work, you are in luck! The STEM Survey Working Group is asking for your help in guiding the field by responding to a short (less than 5 minutes) survey. Your input is essential for building a better understanding of the promises and challenges facing STEM education, and how these are changing in the current environment. They will provide all respondents with a full report of the findings. Additionally, the OLC more broadly will utilize your feedback to inform the offerings and programming we build into the future, ensuring that we are guided first and foremost by your needs as STEM educators.


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Additional Opportunities

Join the OLC Volunteer Team and Grow as a Leader

The OLC relies on the contributions of their wonderful volunteers. There are a variety of opportunities for personal and professional growth through volunteership with the organization. These include leading and designing programming and serving as online event session chairs or as a peer reviewer for session abstracts, among others. If you are looking to build meaningful community with others committed to the future or online, digital, and blended learning, consider joining our volunteer team. Many of our volunteers have written about what they’ve gained from their experiences, such as this blog post reflecting on the community relationships you build and this piece sharing the story of translating OLC programming into personal and other professional contexts.

If you have any questions or want to talk about potential volunteer opportunities, feel free to email OLC’s Director of Online Engagement, Maddie Shellgren (, who has expressed the willingness to chat via email or even meet up virtually over coffee / tea and talk through your interests.

Join the OLC in Developing an Educational Escape Room

OLC Ideate Labs for Online STEM featured one of OLC’s infamous educational escape rooms. Interested in helping build out one of these experiences? Look no further! OLC’s Director for Online Engagement (and mastermind behind OLC’s educational escape rooms), Maddie Shellgren, is currently in the planning stages for the development of an online STEM labs themed escape room and is looking for partners! If you are interested in joining her in this work, please let her know by reaching out via email ( with the subject line “STEM Labs Escape Room.”



This is an OLC Ideate virtual event. Please use the form to the right to sign up for updates as more information becomes available about this event and future events.

Revisit OLC Ideate Virtual Salons (Past Event – Spring 2020)

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