Case Study UCSD Extension’s Hands-On Science Labs Drive Increases in Online Student Enrollment

UCSD Extension’s Hands-On Science Labs Drive Increases in Online Student Enrollment


San Diego, CA


4-year Public


Basic Sciences

The University of California San Diego Division of Extended Studies was established in 1966, as a premier research-based institution for leaders and professionals, providing continuing education, certificate, and degree-related programs. Accredited by WASC, UCSD Division of Extended Studies (DES) offers more than 4000 courses on topics ranging from the arts to pharmaceutical sciences, engineering, and healthcare.

Focused on providing an accessible, high-quality hands-on science laboratory science experience online, UCSD DES started using Science Interactive to deliver more authentic and engaging science courses online.

Delivering Authentic, High-Quality Online Labs Grows Enrollment in Science & Sustainability Programs

UCSD DES’s science and sustainability programs foster student learning through in-person workshops and courses or online by providing learning experiences that support meaningful and consistent engagement with highly trained faculty and accessible resources, which is critical for the 8,000 students taking their online science courses per year.

With the majority of students being working adults, ages 25-45, UCSD DES looked to expand the accessibility of its laboratory science courses to professionals needing additional courses for career advancement, without sacrificing the quality of in-person learning. To do this, the Division:

  • Provided instructors with the tools needed to guide students through authentic, hands-on labs at home, mirroring the high-quality lab experience of in-person courses.
  • Coupled the hands-on labs with academically rigorous digital lessons to reinforce key concepts, competencies, and the course’s learning outcomes.
  • Eased the administrative load on instructors while still being able to engage students more deeply than online simulations could.

The Benefits

Creating Hands-On Science & Sustainability Labs Sets the Division Apart

UC San Diego DES looked to build continuing education online science programs with hands-on laboratory components so they could create more meaningful experiences for students.

To do that, they began exploring the tools and resources that would help instructors mimic a hands-on laboratory environment. Coupled with Science Interactive’s at-home lab kits, instructors use pre-designed digital lessons to directly connect the experiments to their course concepts and learning outcomes. UC San Diego DES also supports a rigorous in-house screening process, blending Science Interactive’s lessons with their own course materials, to ensure all lessons are of the highest academic quality.

The online science labs allow students to conduct tactile experiences at home, which are designed to help students meet requirements for pre-nursing, physician assistant, and other allied health professions. Unlike students participating in digital-only, simulated lab courses, UCSD DES students have a higher level of accountability and ownership over their learning.

The hands-on online lab approach has set the Division apart as a differentiator. Without being limited to San Diego or California in general, enrollment in DES courses have continued to grow each quarter — and so rapidly that the institution is currently focused on hiring more instructors and assessing how many students it can enroll.

“It’s an additional challenge to hire instructors when they have to develop their own materials. With Science Interactive, we don’t have to develop the lab component; we can integrate their lessons with our lecture material to create a comprehensive curriculum that offers a truly engaging lab experience — all while continuing to meet the growing demand.”

Fiona O’Donnell-Lawson, Program Manager, Science and Sustainability

Easing Administrative Load on Instructors

With Science Interactive’s lab management platform, instructors can customize lessons by integrating their own lectures rather than building plans from scratch, and use time-saving features like automatic grading to optimize their time. Students complete standardized lab reports in the system, which makes it easy for instructors to grade — and have those grades automatically passed back to Canvas.

The ease of use has allowed the Division to increase the speed of adoption, providing instructors with a greater capacity to focus on what matters most — teaching.

There’s no way we could offer online lab courses without Science Interactive. Virtual simulation labs are available from other vendors, but they are not appealing for what we’re trying to do, and I couldn’t imagine having to put kits together on our own. It would be a giant mountain for us to climb, whereas after partnering with SI, it only took a few months to see great benefits.

Felicia Murray, Program Manager, Life Sciences