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The Tipping Point for Online Science Is Now!

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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That same tipping point reached by online education in general is also pointing toward a future of increasing demand for online lab science courses. Students want fully online lab science courses. Society needs fully online lab science courses. And it is possible to effectively teach lab science courses fully online. 




The posting below makes the case that most high school and undergraduate science laboratory courses can be taught online. It is from Chapter 10, The Tipping Point for Online Science Is Now! in the book, Teaching Lab Science Courses Online: Resources for Best Practices, Tools, and Technology, by Linda Jeschofnig* and Peter Jeschofnig. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint . 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


* Note: Linda Jeschofnig is president and and CEO of Hands-On Labs, Inc, a company that sells online science kits like those promoted in the post below - RR




Rick Reis

UP NEXT: MLA Considers Radical Changes in the Dissertation



Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The Tipping Point for Online Science Is Now!


A major tipping point toward online courses as the primary instructional mode of the future has been reached. Over 4 million higher education students are taking online courses as this book is being written (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakla, & Jones, 2009). Online enrollments are growing at over four times the pace of on-campus enrollments and this trend is expected to continue for at least another decade (Jaschik, 2009). \"Responding to rising demand\" was cited as the top issue confronting online education over the next two to three years by administrators (Green, 2009).


Still, relatively few institutions and instructors are offering their lab science courses and programs in a fully online format, and this must change. That same tipping point reached by online education in general is also pointing toward a future of increasing demand for online lab science courses. Students want fully online lab science courses. Society needs fully online lab science courses. And it is possible to effectively teach lab science courses fully online.


The examples in this book show that lab science courses can be successfully taught 100% online. They also affirm that college and even high school students can safely and independently learn important science concepts via home-based science experimentation. There is no longer any reason for institutions and instructors to hesitate. The continuing and escalating growth in online education will not abate anytime soon. Online instruction will increasingly become a primary mode of instruction (Allen & Seaman, 2008), so laboratory science courses must be taught in this mode.


Science education is now at that proverbial fork in the road. Will science instructors and institutions of higher education bravely and deliberately embrace 21st-century instructional delivery methods and distribute science knowledge in ways that meet the needs of today's online students? Will laboratory science courses begin to be increasingly taught online; or will they increasingly fall farther behind in the online world? Will U.S. students have opportunity to satisfy the science requirements for their degree programs and to pursue science-related careers at places and times of their own choosing or necessity, or will the United States continue to decline into a state of science ignorance in a world of cyber-learning?


Skeptics initially doubted that online courses could ever be as effective as face-to-face (F2F) instruction. Over the decade since online education's inception, increasing evidence has shown that online courses \"could be as effective\" as, then that they \"were as effective\" as, and finally that they are \"actually more effective\" than F2F courses (Means et al., 2009). The Sloan Foundation's report Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008 (Allen and Seaman, 2008) unequivocally refutes skeptics' biases against online courses.


There has been a similar progression of disbelief and then mounting evidence of success about online lab science courses. As previously discussed, the increasing numbers of anecdotal stories, supporting surveys, and quantitative studies accumulated by Hands-On Labs (2009) over the past decade have confirmed for us and for other educators the effectiveness of home-based experimentation with commercial science lab kits and shown that online science students using them usually perform better, have more satisfying learning experiences, and make higher grades than their campus-based peers.


The reasons for the success of online lab sciences courses and home-based science experimentation appear self-evident. Students must invest more time and active engagement in online coursework as well as in performing lab work independently, and they face no time constraints to thoroughly explore scientific concepts and enjoy discovery learning experiences. Further, the tactile nature of home-based science experimentation creates powerful and personally meaningful learning experiences. These discovery-learning processes are undoubtedly more difficult and time-consuming, but as confirmed in the Learning Pyramid, such higher-level learning processes generate higher levels of understanding and engender greater levels of personal pride and self-satisfaction. Because students own their self-found knowledge in fully online lab science courses, their higher levels of learning are not surprising. Such fantastic learning opportunities should be encouraged.


If science educators' institutions are not pushing them, then science educators should be pushing their institutions to offer lab science courses and programs fully online. Not only will this provide valid science learning experiences that satisfy the needs of today's busy mobile students, it will also help ensure and expand their institutions' enrollments and protect their livelihoods.


Sadly, 48% of the institutions with online programs surveyed by the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) and the Campus Computing Project did not know if their programs were profitable (Green, 2009). However, over 90% of the 52% of institutions that had studied this issue found their online courses were indeed profitable, and 54% of these reported profits greater than 15% (Green, 2009). Potential financial infusions from online programs could go a long way toward ensuring an institution's sustainability and the security of its science instructors' positions, especially during these difficult economic times.


Educational institutions must survive and prosper if they are to educate students and retain staff. This point alone should sway reluctant science instructors to encourage their institutions to offer fully online science courses. Further, those who make the effort to educate themselves as online lab science instructors and to structure their courses for fully online delivery will also enhance their personal potential. Not only will they foster the financial health of their institutions while improving science accessibility for online students, they will also become more valuable to other institutions as well as to their own and thus improve their future employment possibilities.


Educator advocates of online science should enlist the support of colleagues and present their administration with united proposals to plan, develop, and launch fully online lab science courses and programs. Even skeptics can be persuaded to lend support to this cause if they are helped to understand how online science instruction is vital to the growth and sustainability of their institutions and how the availability of online lab science courses can actually strengthen their potential to teach in a traditional face-to-face manner should they choose not to teach online. After all, even though demand for online courses is growing, a continuing need for F2F instruction will not disappear, especially not at vibrant and successful institutions.


Most institutions already use a learning management system (LMS) for content delivery and management or at least partial support of their campus-based courses. It should not be a huge leap for LMS-savvy F2F science instructors to convert the balance of their content and their LMS skills to the service of online students. Before fully moving their science course online, those skeptical of home labs might begin by allowing a test group of F2F students to utilize home-based lab kits and then compare their work to that of campus lab students to evaluate the lab kits' effectiveness.


Administrators who recognize the imperative of moving lab science courses online and are serious about doing so should communicate ample encouragement and provide ample support to willing faculty. If there are no willing faculty, administrations should protect the future of their institutions by specifically recruiting and hiring some. However, existing faculty should first be made aware of that necessity and given the opportunity to volunteer for such appointments before new faculty is hired. Administrators must then allocate adequate time and resources for faculty training, for instructional design and course development, and for technical support. They should quickly identify and assemble the resources online science faculty will require to rapidly move their lab science courses online and actualize the courses as soon as possible.


Where possible, practicing online instructors, even those from other disciplines, should be solicited as mentors for new online science faculty. Despite potentially different disciplines, there are many areas of instructional overlap, and personal mentors can greatly minimize new online instructors' learning curves, especially with new technology and demonstrating how it can be used to enhance instruction. There are ample existing and emerging resources available to quickly train instructors and move courses online; most are just a Google search or professional peer referral away. Institutions that utilize these resources and rapidly deploy their lab science courses online are more likely to retain and grow their enrollments than those who hesitate and come late to the party.


There is a valid sense of urgency by instructors, institutions, and society for quickly moving lab science courses online. They all have a vested interest in the numerous online students who need to quickly fulfill their degree requirements, to quickly bring their studies to a close, to quickly obtain jobs in health and science fields, to quickly improve the life of their families, and to quickly bolster the economy of their communities. Daily headlines reflect the impending perils to a world lacking science literacy and well-honed problem-solving skills.


The myriad of science and nonscience issues immediately facing today's complex world requires its students, its future workers, and its voters to quickly obtain a solid understanding of the processes of nature that science illuminates and to develop the exceptional problem-solving and decision-making skills needed to better address global problems.


The bias against online lab science courses that could quickly provide broader access to science education and problem-solving skills to home-based students has been proven groundless. Tested instructional elements are already in place to deliver effective lab science course fully online. With the barriers to online science broken and in light of the pressing need for expanded science education, lab science educators and academic institutions must quickly begin to move online, provide a full spectrum of online lab science courses for their students, and spur science learning forward through fully online lab science instruction.




Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2008). Staying the course: Online education in the United States, 2008. Sloan Consortium sixth annual report. Needham, MA: Sloan-C.


Green, K. C. (2009). Executive summary. Managing online education programs: The 2009 WCET (Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications) and Campus Computing Project survey. Retrieved from (summarized in a sponsor-briefing webcast at the WCET Annual Conference. Retrieved from


Hands-On Labs (HOL), (2009). LabPaq student survey, May 2009. Retrieved from


Jaschik, S. (2009, June 29). The evidence on online education. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from


Means, B. Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakla, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. Retrieved from