Last year, 7.1 million students at colleges and universities in the United States took at least one online course, according to a recent survey. But for students who enrolled in online science classes, how did they get their lab experience to complete the course?
At Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio, students taking Introduction to Chemistry can conduct hands-on “wet lab” experiments in their own kitchens. Using chemistry kits produced by LabBridge Solutions, the students can create chemical reactions with solids and liquids poured into test tubes after learning the step-by-step instructions on a website.
The kits, which were upgraded in January, cost less than $300 and include the scientific equipment and materials needed to conduct 14 labs for the course. The LabBridge website also offers background material and illustrations for each experiment, instructions on how to conduct the labs, and an evaluation section where the students can apply what they’ve learned to real-world problems.
What’s surprising about these online science courses at Clarkson State Community College is that students who take the online version earn higher grades than those who take the equivalent course on campus. An analysis of grades in both formats of the course in Fall 2013 showed that 44 percent of those enrolled in the online version with LabBridge earned an A or B, compared to only 18 percent of those in the bricks-and-mortar course.
Fewer student also failed the online version of the course. Only 11 percent of the LabBridge students earned an F, while 21 percent of those taking the course on campus did so, according to Midge Hall, a professor of chemistry at the college.
Hall firmly believes students using LabBridge with an online course learn better than their counterparts who take the course on campus.
“If you observe students in a lab situation, they have lab partners and a lot of times, one person does all the work and the other person fetches,” Hall says. “One person is a pair of hands, and the other person is thinking and giving directions. When people are home doing it by themselves, they have to do all the thinking. It makes them interested and excited about it.”
What demonstrated the students’ interest in the online course were two students who asked Hall if they could complete two of the labs they missed after the course was over. The requirements in Hall’s course is for the students to complete 12 out of the 14 labs. “I’ve never had a student come to me and ask to make up a lab,” Hall says.
While Hall is convinced that online science classes are as good as those on campus, not all science professors share her view. At a recent meeting of science faculty in Ohio, many argued that online science courses were not an acceptable alternative.
“There’s a big hurdle there,” Hall says. “I think that introductory science courses are very appropriate online. The faculty in the sciences need to recognize this is a valid alternative.”
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