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Challenges & Solutions for Online Lab Science Courses Peter Jeschofnig, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus Colorado Mountain College, CO Founder of the Institute for Distance Science Education Innovations 2009 Conference Mar. 15 – 18, 2009 Reno, NV Presentation

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challenges solutions for online lab science courses

Challenges & Solutionsfor Online Lab Science Courses

Peter Jeschofnig, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus Colorado Mountain College, CO

Founder of the Institute for Distance Science Education

Innovations 2009 Conference

Mar. 15 – 18, 2009 Reno, NV


Part I - Pros & Cons of Online Lab Options

Part II - Online vs. On-campus Assessment Comparison

Part III - Cheating in Online Courses


Part I - Pros & Cons of Online Lab Options

what about lab sciences
What About Lab Sciences?
  • Lab sciences MUST be fully included in online

course offerings to avoid a continuing decline in science literacy in America.

  • There are still many instructors and institutions that do not believe lab sciences can effectively be taught at a distance.
  • Valid and reliable assessment data is required to dispel this misconception.
purpose of science labs
Purpose of Science Labs?
  • Why do we teach laboratory experimentation in science classes?
  • What are students supposed to learn in the laboratory?
  • How can these objectives be met at a distance?
science labs consensus
Science Labs Consensus

Science Educators unanimously agree:

  • Laboratory experimentation must be part of all science classes
  • Labs have been the weak link of distance learning science classes
quotes of interest
Quotes of Interest

“During the next decade, the United States demand for scientists and engineers is expected to increase at more than double the rate for all other occupations.”Michigan Dept. of Education"Learning science is something that students do, not something that is done to them. In learning science students describe objects and events, ask questions, acquire knowledge, construct explanations of natural phenomena, test those explanations in many different ways, and communicate their ideas to others.“National Science Education Standards,NRC 1996, 2006

philosophical differences
Philosophical Differences
  • Simulations vs. Hands-On Labs Kits

i.e. Seeing vs. Doing

  • College Level vs. Basic Concepts

i.e. Kitchen Chemistry

String and Sticky Tape

virtual online science classes debate
Virtual (Online) Science Classes Debate
  • NY Times -10-06 Sam Dillon

“Members of the College Board insist that college-level laboratory science courses not be labeled ‘A.P.’ without a physical lab.”

  • Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia, Provost, Dr. Fleck said students worldwide found the virtual dissection useful. But he called it “markedly inferior” to performing a real dissection. “You don’t get the look and the feel and the smell.”
distance lab options
Distance Lab Options
  • Hybrid Labs
  • Simulations – Virtual Labs
  • Remote-Access Labs
  • “Kitchen” Labs
  • Lab Kits
    • Instructor Assembled
    • Student Assembled
    • Commercially Assembled
least desirable option hybrid
Least Desirable Option - Hybrid

Hybrid – Combination Online and On campus

  • Online – Lecture
  • On campus -Traditional labs

1. Weekly

2. Once-a-month all-day lab sessions at local

college or H.S.

3. Several-day long lab workshops

All Defeat the Purpose of Distance Learning

  • Mind-numbing long sessions for students
  • Loss of distance enrollment for Institution
simulations vs lab experiences
Simulations vs. Lab Experiences

Students Like Simulations:

  • Easy
  • Similar to computer games
  • Low cost

BUT – how effective are simulations?

simulations pros cons
Simulations – Pros & Cons


  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Readily available
  • Fulfill some lab objectives
  • Will probably get better, more challenging

Summary - useful as part of lab program


  • Don’t meet as many lab objectives as lab kits
  • Missing tactile experience - feel of “doing science”
  • May not be adequate for science “majors”
  • Potential problems transferring course credits
types of simulations
Types of Simulations

Textbook CD-ROMs

Model Science Software

Virtual ChemLab


All computer based -

No actual “hands-on” experimentation

textbook cd roms
Textbook CD-ROMs

Houghton Mifflin (Ebbing)

model science software 1
Model Science Software (1)

simulations caveat
Simulations - Caveat
  • Increasing numbers of 4-year colleges and universities are refusing to accept transfer credits for simulation based labs.
  • University of Colorado – School of Engineering is the latest institution not accepting transfer credit for simulation-based lab courses based on their evaluation that students without hands-on labs experiences are unsafe and have limited competencies.
  • American Chemical Society supports this position: In a recent statement it said, “ The Society believes that computer simulations are not a substitute for hands-on laboratories from the kindergarten level through undergraduate education.” (Feb. 2009)
kitchen chemistry labs
Kitchen Chemistry Labs


  • Provide genuine hands on science activities
  • Relatescience to the student’s real world
  • Inexpensive


  • Limit sophistication of lab experience
  • Students don’t respect it as serious science
  • Require extra time for acquiring supplies and constructing equipment
  • Lab quality varies from very creative to inadequate

Exceptional Kitchen Chemistry Courses

  • Elmhurst College
  • UC Denver and Univ. of N. Carolina - FIPSE Grant: “Anytime Anywhere Chemistry Experience”
assembled kits
Assembled Kits

Instructor & Student Assembled Kits:

  • Instructor checks out glassware and equipment
  • Students buy supplies assigned by instructor
  • Students return materials and equipment at end of semester


  • Relatively inexpensive or not?
  • Students get a hands-on, wet-lab experience


  • Student complain about finding materials
  • Instructor relegated to “stock boy” chores
  • Disputes over inevitably lost/broken equipment
assembled kits history the open university uk
Assembled Kits - HistoryThe Open University - UK
  • Since early 1970’s
  • Very large science kit – storage problem
  • $ 1.8 million, 8000 students
  • Very high annual costs for warehousing, shipping, replacement parts, etc.

Challenge –

Developing a new kit that is small and non-returnable

assembled kits history monash university australia
Assembled Kits - HistoryMonash University, Australia
  • Physics kit
  • Video instructions
  • Students as far away as Singapore
  • Kits returned as much as 6 months late
  • Success - High retention rate
assembled kits history micro scale techniques
Assembled Kits – HistoryMicro-Scale Techniques

Micro-scale refers to the process of conducting traditional

science experiments on a much smaller and safer scale.

First introduced into the laboratory by chemistry professor Dr.

Hubert Alyea (1903-1996) at Princeton University.

Primary objectives:

  • Greatly reduce safety risk of experimentation
  • Reduce environmental and chemical disposal problems
  • Engage students in traditional science experimentation and foster inquiry-based problem solving abilities
micro scale science equipment centrifuge tubes 24 well and 96 well plates thin stem pipet
Micro-Scale Science EquipmentCentrifuge Tubes - 24-Well and 96-Well Plates - Thin Stem Pipet
lab kit issues
Lab Kit Issues
  • How safe are at-home lab experiments?
  • What are legal issues for conducting labs in an unsupervised environment?
  • Are important experiments eliminated because of safety or cost?
  • Is there compliance with proper waste disposal?
contact information
Contact Information

Feedback and Suggestions are Welcome!

Peter J. Jeschofnig, PhD

Institute for Excellence in Science Education


Part II - Online vs. On-campus Assessment Comparison

part ii assessment comparison
Part II - Assessment Comparison

Online vs. On-campus Comparison

  • Colorado Mountain College, CO – CHE 111
  • Herkimer County Community College, SUNY System, NY – BIO
  • Ocean County College, NJ – A & P
study objective
Study Objective

To quantitatively assess and compare performance of my chemistry students:

  • In a face-to-face (F2F) chemistry course with an on-campus laboratory and
  • In an online chemistry (DL) course using a chemistry LabPaq by Hands-On Labs, Inc. for the laboratory component
process of assessing outcomes
Process of Assessing Outcomes

Administer and Compare Results for Campus-Based

CHE 111 Students vs. Online CHE-111 Students:

1. American Chemical Society Standardized Exam

  • Pre-test
  • Post-test

2. Traditional homework, quizzes, exam grades

3. Laboratory reports graded via specific rubric

lab report scores
Lab Report Scores

Online lab results achieved using biology LabPaq produced by Hands-On Labs, Inc.

Effectiveness of a Web-Based Laboratory Course in BiologyJennifer Herzog, Herkimer County Community College, N.Y

Online lab results achieved using biology LabPaq produced by Hands-On Labs, Inc.

ocean county college teaching anatomy and physiology totally online
Ocean County CollegeTeaching Anatomy and Physiology Totally Online

Assessment of the Program

  • HAPS: Human Anatomy and Physiology Society Cumulative Exam
  • Spring and Summer 2008
  • Voluntary participation (2 days after finishing A&P II)
benefits of doing labs remotely
Benefits of Doing Labs Remotely


Convenience of Time

  • Students complete work and studies at their convenience
  • Parents can complete work when children are asleep

No Time Contraints

  • Students can work as long as needed - any time, any where
  • Not restricted to 50 minutes campus lab sessions

Flexible Learning Style

  • Students learn science in a way that is comfortable for them

Own Materials and Equipment

  • Students own and keep a mini-lab of their own
  • Science equipment in the home encourages science exploration

Convenient Buying Process

  • LabPaq is ordered online using a credit card
  • LabPaq is shipped directly to the student within 24 hours

Embraces technology

benefits of doing labs remotely54
Benefits of Doing Labs Remotely


Working Alone:

  • No immediate response from a partner or instructor. However, some instructors consider this “discovery learning” opportunity to be a major benefit to students.
  • Limited or no synchronistic interaction between the student, teacher and classmates

Instructor Competence:

  • Instructors must have specific teaching skills and open attitude geared toward online teaching
  • Instructor may limit access and communications


  • Online class tuition can be more expensive
  • Cost of single use lab kit. However, costs are often offset by savings from not having to commute to campus.
contact information55
Contact Information

Feedback and Suggestions are Welcome!

Peter J. Jeschofnig, PhD

Institute for Excellence in Science Education


Part III – Cheating in Online Courses

cheating the most common concern of online educators
Cheating:The Most Common Concern of Online Educators
  • Is the enrolled student doing the work and taking the assessments?
  • Are the lab experiments done by the student?
lab experiments
Lab Experiments

TIPS: For preventing the circulation of

prior semesters’ lab reports

  • Add new question sets each semester
  • Utilize plagiarism software
  • Require photos of students and their lab setups in each lab report
  • Match Rosters against Vendor shipping lists – It is impossible for students to do the lab work if they didn’t obtain a LabPaq!
lab report plagiarism software options
Lab Report Plagiarism:Software Options

Viper - free online plagiarism scanner

iScan – free online plagiarism scanner

WinMerge - free download

online exams
Online Exams
  • Federally mandated verification
  • Monitoring systems
  • Timed, randomly generated exams
  • New approaches to assessment
  • Use tracking and statistical analysis
  • Advise students that integrity tracking assessments are built into the course
high tech security methods
High-Tech Security Methods
  • Retinal Scans; Voice, Palm or Fingerprints
  • Special monitoring cameras
  • Monitoring Services (Securexam)
contact information63
Contact Information

Feedback and Suggestions are Welcome!

Peter J. Jeschofnig, PhD

Institute for Excellence in Science Education


Laboratory Report Grading Rubric

Title of Report:

Authors’ names:

Grading Rubric Point Allocation

for Lab Reports