Online Science Labs: Challenges and Solutions for Educators

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

Science education has been challenged by the demands and rapid growth of online education.  One challenge is how to run lab sections of science courses online. Well-designed, rigorous investigations can be completed in the student’s home. Attendees may actively participate in a hands-on lab investigation developed for online science courses.


Heather is a champion for higher education, and brings a unique combination of insight, education, and experience to her position as Distance Learning Regional Sales Manager. Heather’s positive energy and keen eye for detail are assets in her ability to customize actionable strategies and communicate clear success outcomes for faculty leaders, team members, and students. Heather received her B.S. in Business Administration from Elon University, and continued on to work in Elon Admissions as Senior Associate Director of Admissions and as Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions. She has her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Extended Abstract

The best way to learn science is by doing science, but how can distance learning students do science in their homes? A lack of quality, safe, and affordable lab materials can prevent students from doing the kinds of rigorous, hands-on lab investigations they would on campus.

There are alternatives to traditional lab materials, such as videos and simulations. However, such alternatives do not fully capture the essence of a physical experimental setup. Videos are experienced passively, which makes them poor substitutes for interactive involvement.  Most simulations are very low-stakes endeavors. Students can’t run out of materials, mistakes are easily reversed, and the number of possible outcomes is very limited. No preparation or cleanup is necessary; events typically do not unfold in real time.

Lab kits can provide quality instructional materials to support active, engaged learning. Ideally, a kit is comprised of multiple investigations, each with its own set of measurable student learning outcomes. With such a lab kit, the student is responsible for carrying out every aspect of the experimental procedure. Mistakes can happen, results may not be as anticipated (which does not necessarily mean they are incorrect), and troubleshooting is sometimes necessary. Using lab kits can provide raw material for rich discussions with the instructor and classmates. The lab experience lends itself to varied and robust assessment. Session participants will have the opportunity to discuss planning and implementation of lab kits and try a sample investigation.