More and more students are taking online classes, including online laboratory classes. Survey data gathered by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) in 2012 show that 25.8 percent of all post-secondary students took at least one course online.
With this increase in online education comes the issue of how to keep students engaged and ensure they don’t drop a course or stop doing the required work. Some aspects of student engagement are unique to an online laboratory course.
Students need precise instructions in order to do good work. This requires extra steps from the instructor. In a traditional laboratory course, an instructor can immediately clarify or adjust a step when students are having issues with an experiment.
A clear time frame for completion will help keep students on track. Some experiments are time sensitive, or the lab materials shipped to students are perishable. Details on when each step needs to be completed will allow students to get the most out of the experience.
Help is crucial for both student success and student safety. A message board where students can ask questions of the instructor and each other is extremely useful.
Online students miss the physical experience of being in a laboratory, such as the smell of chemicals, the feel of the materials, and the act of performing experiments. Institutions have addressed this by improving the quality of lab materials. The laboratory equipment sent to students is often a miniature or full-scale version of what a student would handle in an on-campus class. The materials sent to a student’s home have to be safe, though limited quantities of standard lab chemicals can be included.
There are limits to doing laboratory work at home. Most undergraduate coursework can be done with equipment that can be sent to a home without increasing the cost for the students too much. Higher-level courses require students to use equipment that is too expensive, sensitive, or large to send to a home. There are alternatives available.
The last and one of the most important aspects of student engagement is the instructor. When instructors are engaged with their students and involved in selecting and designing their lab kits, their enthusiasm carries over to their students. This motivates students and encourages them to do well. When students learn new and interesting things, they’re more willing to spend sufficient time on their work, and the quality of the work goes up. Thus being an engaging instructor leads to an increase in student engagement.
Ginder, Scott and Stearns, Christina. (2014). Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014023.pdf
We’re here to provide guidance every step of the way throughout the process of selecting investigations and building kits. Contact a Distance Learning Specialist today to discuss your own specific needs.
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