Online Science Lab Technologies

Back in April, I wrote a blog article about online science labs and promised to write another article about the technology enhancements that are available, which will provide for rigorous and engaging general education online science laboratory courses.


Video technology has been used for a long time to enhance learning.  I would contend that the technology has evolved in such a way that students might be more engaged in a general ed online science lab than they would be in a face-to-face lab environment. The Canvas Arc/Studio tool allows people to seamlessly make comments on the video as they are watching it. This means there can be an asynchronous conversation during the video. The instructor can create an instructional video to demonstrate how to do something in the lab and ask questions throughout the demonstration.  Students will respond to the questions using the comment feature. This form of electronic interaction creates a level of engagement you may not get in a live classroom with shy, timid, or deliberative students who may not be quick to interact.

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Another feature of Canvas Arc/Studio is the ability to add formative or summative quizzes to a video. This would be similar to using clickers in the classroom to engage students during the lecture.  The instructor can record a video lecture and have the students take a quiz afterward.  I think this, too, is better than a face-to-face class because the student can watch the lecture more than once and video lectures include captions that will help clarify meaning. After watching the lecture, a formative quiz could be taken. If the student does not score well, the video can be watched again, and the quiz can be taken again.

Lab Kits

Video is not the only technology to evolve.  Science lab kits have also had major enhancements. Sure, they will still send the student a box full of rubber gloves, beakers, test tubes, and chemicals needed. Now, however, companies like eScience has a high-quality integration into Canvas! The integration has videos that walk the students through doing the science lab. Again, this is better than a face-to-face class because students taking a general education science lab may not understand what the instructor is saying.  A video can be paused and re-watched over, and over, and over!  The integration comes with forms, checklists, procedures, assignments and quizzes.



Another technological advancement are simulations, which offer a great supplement to lab kits because sometimes it involves the use of equipment that you may not have access to.

PhET was founded in 2002 and is an interactive simulation project at the University of Colorado Boulder, which creates free interactive math and science simulations. PhET simulations are based on extensive education research and engage students through an intuitive, game-like environment where students learn through exploration and discovery.

About a year ago, Ferris had a pilot account with simulations with Labster and many departments showed an interest in it. In Labster’s virtual lab simulations, students work through real-life case stories, interact with lab equipment, perform experiments and learn with theory and quiz questions. I strongly encourage you to check out the vast variety of lab simulations they offer. Labster can be integrated into Canvas and students can complete the simulations as assignments.


Virtual Reality

If you think virtual reality is scary, then take a moment to consider that our future students are already using VR equipment in the homeschool and K-12 environments. These tools are used to modify and enhance learning by providing alternative views (pun intended) of explaining concepts so that all of your students can succeed.

Labster has started exploring virtual reality quite extensively. Labster and Google have partnered together to unlock the physical lab requirements in biology courses. They have created virtual reality compatible simulations that can be used online. Labster’s biology VR labs are available on the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream and Google Daydream View.

Mel Sciences is a very new company that was established in 2015. Mel Sciences already has an extensive repository of virtual reality lessons for Chemistry and I expect they will have tremendous growth as technology continues to evolve.

ClassVR is another provider of virtual and augmented reality. They have VR programming for many subject areas, including chemistry, biology, and physics.  While ClassVR is focused on K-12, I thought they had a good argument for using ClassVR in Higher Ed.


Advancements in technology has enhanced the quality of the Open Educational Resources (OER) that are available for STEM.  Below are several sites with good quality and free course material for online science classes.

HHMI BioInteractive also offers free instructional tools to help your biology and environmental science students deepen their content knowledge and understand how science works. HHMI is a science philanthropy whose mission it is to advance biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity Resources are produced by scientists and educators, reviewed by leading scientists, field-tested by educators, and updated based on educator feedback.  Resources are targeted for introductory college courses.

MERLOT is one of the oldest OER repositories out there. The MERLOT system provides access to curated online learning and support materials and content creation tools, led by an international community of educators, learners and researchers. They have thousands of resources you can select from in Biology, Chemistry, Geoscience, Environmental Science, Physics and much more.

Canvas Commons is a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. Commons is a digital library full of educational content that allows you to share or import learning resources into a Canvas course. In this example, I searched on science labs and filtered it to only include undergraduate content and then sorted it by the items that have been downloaded the most.  Notice that you can download quizzes, assignments, discussions, or an entire course.  Commons allows you view the content before you download it.

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Written by Jackie Hughes, Coordinator of Instructional Technology

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