5 Actionable Tips for Teaching Online Science in Texas 

Written by SI • May 28, 2024 •  3 min read
5 Actionable Tips for Teaching Online Science in Texas  Featured Image

In this guide, we draw insights directly from Texas instructors who are leading the way online, offering practical advice to enhance the online learning experience in Texas and beyond. 

1. Focus on student outcomes

Designing courses that are focused on clear learning outcomes is a key step in ensuring the course prepares students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. For example, align assignments with specific learning outcomes to ensure students acquire essential hands-on skills like measurement and microscope use. 

“My time at the LeCroy center was my first experience with the idea of mapping assignments to learning outcomes—a PhD in biology doesn’t teach you that,” says Dr. Jennifer Baggett, Professor of Biology at Dallas College. 

“So when I’m talking to faculty who are a little nervous about teaching online, I always bring up one question: you need to know what your goal is—what do you want students to achieve from the course? You want them to achieve hands-on skills, right? If those are necessary skills for where they’re going, then you need to figure out how to make your online course accomplish those goals.” 

And to achieve student outcomes, instructors must put rigor at the top of their list—and know how to evaluate it

2. Ask essential questions to ensure rigor 

Colleges renowned for their commitment to student success naturally attract and retain more students. However, the question of rigor transcends the learning environment—it’s about the substance and methodology to ensure students achieve course learning goals. 

When assessing rigor of your online labs, here are important questions to ask: 

  • Do lab activities require students to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information? 
  • Are the lab assessments designed to challenge students’ understanding and application of concepts? 
  • Are the lab instructions clear and concise, promoting independent inquiry and exploration? 
  • Do the lab tasks simulate real-world challenges or scientific inquiry? 
  • Does the lab provide opportunities for students to grapple with ambiguity, uncertainty, and divergent viewpoints? 

Pro tip: Solicit student reviews to get their perspective at the end of the semester. 

When asked about their experience, a student at Western Texas College—with plans to transfer to University of Mary Hardin-Baylor to earn her degree in Physical Therapy—said, “Each step explained in detail what to do, and I was able to see how it applied to the lecture and concepts we were learning. The videos and images helped to see if I was doing things right. And in the end, it was a great opportunity to apply what we were learning to real-world scenarios.” 

3. Prioritize Quality Matters standards

As more courses and labs are available online, the fundamental need remains unchanged: Quality, authentic lab experiences are essential for students to develop critical skills, regardless of their learning environment.  

One Texas student said the following about their most memorable lab, Titration: “I loved the setup for this experiment. Using the titrator, beaker, and all the chemicals was fun. Being able to see the chemical reactions in front of my very own eyes was helpful in understanding the concepts we were learning. I even messed up a bit on one of them but there was enough of the chemicals to do it twice, so it was good practice and a cool learning experience.” 

To ensure quality and authenticity in online learning experiences, institutions can seek out Quality Matters markers that serve as a guide for institutions in developing online learning programs and selecting lab partners like Science Interactive. 

So, you’ve nailed outcomes, rigor, and quality, but what about delivery? 

4. Strike a balance between hands-on and virtual labs

Hands-on learning in an online science course prepares students by allowing them to actively engage with materials, conduct experiments, and analyze data in real time.  

“I’m a firm believer in hands-on experiences for students, especially the Science majors,” says Dr. Baggett. 

In combination with hands-on labs, virtual simulations help students grasp concepts and phenomena that are too abstract to learn from a textbook, or too difficult or too dangerous to observe in real-time. 

  • Perfect for teaching abstract concepts such as climate change, evolution, or light rays and radio waves 
  • Let students repeat experiments as many times as they need to deepen their learning and foster confidence in their abilities. 
  • Help students grasp basic lab techniques and safety procedures in a safe, low-stakes environment. 

But Dr. Baggett encourages balance to find a mix that ensures students learn the right skills the right way. “They have to learn how to read a procedure and follow it in sequence. And that’s where the hands-on element comes in. I don’t want virtual simulations to let them skip steps,” because the goal isn’t to get them to the end faster, it’s that they learn—and remember—the right thing. 

5. Engage students by connecting learning to the real world

While student success in the classroom is crucial, instructors see the most engagement from students when they’re invested and understand the why.  

“My students are starting to do some real critical thinking when they perform the experiments through our Science Interactive lab kits, and that’s what we want,” Cynthia Lawry, Professor of Geology at Lone Star College. “We want critical thinking. We want them to think outside of the box, forming a hypothesis, and looking at theories and see how we evolved to them.” 

Dr. Baggett relates this phenomenon to the importance of students developing marketable skills, from critical thinking to following a procedure, and even the ability to hit deadlines.  

“It’s basically looking at what you’re learning from a ‘where are you going with it perspective,’ that works for both transfer students and students who are going straight into a job, like a health field, where they only need the associate’s degree,” says Professor Baggett 

“It’s basically saying, when are you going use this? Why do you care about it? What are you trying to take away from? This isn’t just information and a lab—it’s is a place where tons of skills are taught.” 

Grab your goggles, and let’s go! 

From mapping assignments to student outcomes to striking a balance between hands-on and virtual labs, Texas instructors are pioneering effective approaches in online science education. Their strategies offer valuable insights for colleges and institutions nationwide. Ready to implement these strategies in your own curriculum?  

Request a demo or speak with Science Interactive today to explore how our solutions can help you provide more students with an authentic lab experience.