Missouri S&T pilots online laboratory course this semester

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On February 2, 2015

20141209 Lavetta Lewis 022This spring, Missouri University of Science and Technology is offering its first fully online section of a biology laboratory class using an at-home lab kit. Students can perform “wet” laboratory experiments, hands-on chemical-based work, in open-air areas and follow provided instructions for biological course work.

The introductory course, designed for students who aren’t biology majors, allows students to perform 13 experiments outside of the classroom during the semester. Students document each step of the experiment and upload them for the professor to review. The kits contain all the equipment, chemicals and personal safety items students need for the semester.

“Small-scale vials are sent to students that contain just enough chemicals to complete each experiment,” says Terry Wilson, associate teaching professor of biological sciences and the online course instructor. “It was a little difficult to find a good manufacturer of the home kits, but now that we have I hope to pilot additional courses in the future to ease access for distance students.”

The online laboratory offering is part of an effort by Missouri S&T’s education technology department to expand course options through its DELTA (Delivering Experiential Labs To All) program. Amy Skyles, instructional designer in educational technology at Missouri S&T, and her coworkers developed the DELTA program to allow for distance education with laboratory equipment and experiments.

“When the university started redesigning a few courses, they focused mainly on improving lecture-style courses,” says Skyles. “Through this program, we want to complement those lectures by offering online lab work and continue to drive blended experiential learning.”

DELTA is part of the Transforming Instructional Labs project at Missouri S&T, which is funded through a grant from the University of Missouri System. It also involves an evaluation of other universities that are experimenting with their instructional labs.

Other courses experimenting with their presentations this semester include a civil engineering course, a chemistry course and additional biology courses that are “flipping” instruction. In these classes, lectures are delivered online and students meet on-campus to perform laboratory experiments. Missouri S&T’s nuclear reactor also offers online streaming access to accommodate the number of students who wish to view on-site lectures. Due to size restraints, only a couple of students are allowed in the reactor at a time.

Skyles will present a webinar about the university’s piloted online-learning laboratories program 1-2 p.m. CST Tuesday, Feb. 10, at onlinelearningconsortium.org. The webinar will include an explanation of Missouri S&T’s DELTA program and explain how experiential learning is the focus of all laboratory course redesigns.

“We are compiling a set of eLearning models and processes and hope to fine tune online lab work soon,” says Skyles. “The goal is to be able to offer an online option for many more laboratory courses.”

To register for the DELTA webinar, visit onlinelearningconsortium.org/webinar/delta-delivering-experiential-labs.

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