A major area of focus for schools promoting online learning as an alternative to on-campus coursework is the implementation of instructional methods that will engage students in interactive learning, especially in areas that require special equipment and materials. Laboratory-based science courses present a unique dilemma in this context. Online science labs continue to gain acceptance as a legitimate alternative to the face-to-face laboratory experience, but what tools are available to support this emerging trend? The rapid growth of learning technologies has provided online science educators with the means to take learning to the next level and the list of resources keeps growing. The following examples are just a few of the many solutions I have discovered in transitioning my science labs to the online environment.
Open Educational Resources
Go-Lab Project (Global Online Science Labs for Inquiry Learning at School)
Go-Lab Project provides remote and virtual labs covering a wide range of subject domains. The current domains include physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, astronomy, environmental education, geography and earth science, technology and engineering. In addition to the remote labs, Go-Lab Project provides access to scientific databases, tools, and resources to support student learning.
PhET provides a series of research-based science and mathematics simulations that provide simulations for student to explore and learn new concepts. PhEt is also currently working to make the simulations accessible for all types of learners. This resource is ideal for pre-lab assignments in online science courses.
OnlineLabs.in is a great repository of online labs and simulations which I like to call one-stop shopping for a variety of subjects, particularly virtual laboratory simulations for science education. The site categorizes useful links to online lab simulations, virtual science experiments and free educational software. This resource is worth bookmarking.
Fee-based Simulations and Virtual Labs
Gizmos by ExploreLearning are designed to help students develop a deep and lasting understanding of key concepts in science through inquiry and exploration. ExploreLearning is a website that uses Gizmos to provide students with an exciting way to explore educational content. Gizmos use instructional tools such as 3D and easy-to-manipulate simulations. The key is to guide students toward what is interesting and pertinent in a Gizmo, and to ask questions that will lead students to really think about the key concepts. Figure 1 is an example of a Gizmo covering the topic of genetics.
All LateNite Labs simulations are browser-based software applications that let students conduct “virtual” experiments in biology, chemistry and microbiology. Labs are interactive and allow for mistakes so students are free to explore all the different elements of the lab without having to worry about wasting resources or breaking equipment. The microbiology labs are a great way to conduct pre-lab assignments. Figure 2 is an example of a LateNite Lab covering the topic of microbiology.
Primal Pictures is a 3D real-time body software program with a detailed examination of various anatomical regions. Although it is called 3D, the images are more accurate two-dimensional representations of the three-dimensional model. The graphics are fantastic and quite detailed, so it really feels like 3D experience. The software is aimed at both science professionals and students. Primal Pictures include several different components available on http://www.anatomy.tv: interactive systemic anatomy, interactive regional anatomy, surgical and functional anatomy and the 3D real-time body. This is accessible if your university or college purchases Primal Pictures. Figure 3 is an example of a Primal Pictures lab.
As online resources continue to be developed, the quality, quantity, and diversity of online lab offerings will also expand. Additionally the concept of the blended lab will continue to evolve and will incorporate many of the tools available within the online teaching community. The improvements in the online learning technologies will continue to facilitate these processes in the future as well. Emerging technologies, online tactile feedback, audio/video and robotic technologies, and even digital scent technologies may provide students with new opportunities for developing hands-on skills that were once mastered in the face-to-face online science course.
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About Dr. Julia Vandermolen
Dr. Julia VanderMolen is an Assistant Professor in the Allied Health Sciences program within the College of Health Professions at Grand Valley State University. At the OLC Institute for Professional Development, Julia teaches a number of workshops in addition to facilitating the Online Science Labs Mastery Series. Dr. VanderMolen received her Ph.D in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Career and Technical Education from Western Michigan University. She has a M.Ed in Educational Technology from Grand Valley State University, a MA in Health Science from the University of Alabama, and a MS in Biology from Clemson University.