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Five Science Teachers and a Banana: Are Traditional Labs Better Than Online Labs, or Just the Way it’s Always Been Done

Blogging the Online Learning Consortium International Conference 2014

Presenter: Jim Brinson, American Military University

All his presentation resources are online here

Photo Credit: Amy - Bio Lab

Photo Credit: Amy – Bio Lab

Different ways to do labs: hands-on manipulatives in person, remote labs, virtual labs, lab kits, etc.

Who is saying which method is more effective, why are they saying it, and based on what criteria? This is a paper that Jim is about to publish. Lesson for me in my budding research: write the journal article first, then use the conference presentation to get the word out and to find potential future research partners; to inspire future needed research; or to share additional results that weren’t included in the paper.

He developed a classification system that can be used for both online and non-traditional, and that can apply to all scientific disciplines.

The engineering lab lit review that he used to inspire his work is this paper: Ma, J., and Nickerson, J. V., “Hands-on, Simulated and Remote Laboratories: A Comparative Literature Review”, ACM Computing Surveys, (38:3) Article 7, 2006, pp. 1-24. pdf

There isn’t a central repository for this information, and so this research on traditional and non-traditional labs isn’t moving along very quickly.

Interesting things came up in the studies: geographic location of the studies, gender, level of the student, is there an equivalent learning for students.

Most undergrad labs are about following directions, getting a specific outcome, scientific communication, using and testing a hypothesis, etc.

This is the KIPPAS table that Jim created to categorize the outcomes of the various labs.

Most of outcomes measured in the lab studies were on Knowledge/Understand level. Hmm. Are we really doing in labs what we want to be doing?

The second highest is Perception – which is student’s interest in science. Labs make science interesting for the student.

The big question is, where do the students need the physical manipulatives? Student prior experience with the manipulatives is a consideration as well. Additional research is needed, which includes being really clear on which outcomes are being measured.

One of the participants shared how they offer a program with online and f2f delivery both; and when students get to the face to face clinical work in the hospital, they have the same success rates. Jim argued that we need to get more of these results published.

Reflection: I need to get this paper and share it with our faculty who are thinking of online labs. The issue of labs is really important for access to scientific learning experiences. In addition, how students learn various types of knowledge and skills is important as we try to deliver in a wider variety of ways. 

What I really appreciated about this presentation is digging down into the learning outcomes at the foundation of labs, and then considering from that foundation the issues of non-traditional labs.