Online Science Labs

rmason“Over my dead body!”  This was the response of Dr. Roy Mason, Professor of Biology at Mt. San Jacinto Community College (MSJC) in 2003 when the concept of teaching online science courses to non-science majors was discussed because students could not get to their remote campus to take classes. Dr. Mason and his colleagues were concerned about course rigor and the attainment of student learning outcomes in the online laboratory experience. Dr. Mason, a student-centered professor and researcher, decided to create and pilot a fully online Biology 115 course for non-majors in 2004. In his research, he taught two fully online and two face-to-face Biology 115 courses. His hypothesis was “online course delivery is equivalent to face-to-face course delivery in determining a student’s level of attainment of student learning outcomes in a non-majors introductory biology course.”

Dr. Mason summarized, “a majority of the data analyzed by this research indicate no statistically significant differences in completing student learning outcomes in on-line and on-campus courses in non-major biology.” There was a tremendous student response and within a year, the number of course sections increased to meet student demand. Despite the evidence, there were still faculty-members who maintained the “over my dead body” fixed mindset. After more research, faculty attitudes began to change. Dr. Mason has been teaching and enhancing his online Biology courses over 16 years, but he still maintains that science labs for students majoring in biology will be taught online “over his dead body” because biology majors need to spend hundreds of hours in a laboratory.

Student doing online science lab.I am writing this blog while at the Online Learning Consortium – Innovate conference where I have attended 7 sessions about online science labs in the first two days! It is clear online science labs are a topic of interest. In one session, I learned from an attendee that St. Claire Community College has been offering online science labs since 2006 because students do not have access to attend the courses face-to-face.  She said the online science students performed better on the standardized tests than the face-to-face course. Both aforementioned institutions said that four-year universities are accepting their online science lab courses as transferable.

Last spring, I attended the Michigan Blackboard User Group conference where I attended a session by Schoolcraft College entitled, “It’s Not Rocket Science: Developing Quality Online Science Laboratory Courses.” Nick Butkevich, Professor of Biology and Jason Kane, Instructional Designer also took a research approach to offering fully online Biology 100 in 2015. The biology course started with 20 students and had 200 students in its 3rd year.  The course quality and student demand were evident, so they offered Chemistry 104 in 2016.The chemistry course started with 20 students and had 90 students in its 2nd year.

Science laboratory courses for non-major students could and should be offered online. Did you know that Ferris does not offer four-year fully online programs? There is a student demand for it.  There are departments on campus that are prepared to offer four-year online programs. We could increase enrollment with four-year online programs. Offering the required general education online science laboratory courses for non-major students will allow us to deliver fully online four-year degrees. We currently advise students to take their science laboratory courses online at a community college and transfer it to Ferris. Many institutions have been offering online science laboratory courses for years. Four-year universities are accepting transferred online science laboratory courses from community colleges.  If community college professors are doing pilots and research about online science labs, then Ferris professors can do it better.

In my next blog post, I will talk about the technology enhancements that are available, which will provide for rigorous and engaging online science laboratory courses. There are a variety of technology options that enhance student learning of course objectives.


Please contact me if you would like a copy of Dr. Roy Mason’s research or the “It’s Not Rocket Science: Developing Quality Online Science Laboratory Courses” presentation.

Also, please contact me if you are interested in talking about piloting your Ferris science laboratory course in an online environment.

Written by Jackie Hughes, Coordinator of Instructional Technology

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