Science Interactive’s original research reveals increased demand for online science courses and the most effective strategies for creating an online lab experience comparable to on campus.
WASHINGTON, DC—October 24, 2023–Science Interactive, a leader in supporting effective online science education, released the first installment of its Annual Lab Report: The State of Online Science Labs this week at the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate 2023 Conference. As colleges increasingly embrace online learning, some continue to question the extent to which STEM programs can be delivered effectively online. With more 1,290 student and 320 instructor responses, this report answers that question—identifying the challenges both students and instructors face, as well as offering actionable recommendations for shifting face-to-face (F2F) lab experiences online without sacrificing quality or effectiveness.
“Science labs have historically relied on a F2F, hands-on environment to teach the critical thinking and problem-solving skills students need to apply to the real world. Our goal with this research was to tap into the insights of educators who have been delivering online labs for years. What we found is that providing STEM courses online is important and valuable for students, and that there are proven strategies both instructors and students agree on to recreate a safe, high-quality hands-on experience that’s comparable to the on-campus lab experience,” commented Chief Academic Officer, Cait Runne-Janczy, PhD.
This report dives deeper into how instructors teaching online STEM courses have approached the lab component and examines the quality and effectiveness of using hands-on and virtual simulations, while comparing student and instructor attitudes toward these formats.
Key findings include:
- Market demand: Findings indicate both a clear interest in and need for online STEM courses & programs. In fact, 91% of students said it was very important to be able to take their science courses online, including a large number pursuing STEM-based degrees.
- Quality: Consensus among both students (81%) and instructors (78%) shows high satisfaction with the online lab experience, across multiple modalities (virtual and hands-on) and levels (majors and non-majors).
- Lab Formats: While virtual simulations have a role in online lab courses, instructors highlight that relying solely on virtual simulations often falls short. Consensus among students and instructors indicates that including a hands-on component supports better outcomes because it better prepares students with the skills and knowledge needed to continue in their course of study. In fact, 85% of instructors using hands-on labs were confident students could apply what they learned in the real world.
- Cost: The majority of instructors who adopted hands-on labs thought they were commensurate with the value and quality of the experience, and nearly ¾ of students said the cost of the hands-on labs was aligned with the value received.
In addition, findings surfaced important opportunities. Feedback from students showed that their success in these courses remained largely dependent on adequate support and guidance, as well as opportunities to put theory into practice. As one student comments, “The at-home labs were fantastic! My instructor helped us feel like we were in a school laboratory, and the entire hands-on kit allowed me to gain greater confidence as a pre-veterinary medical student.”
According to Lauren Kerrigan, chemistry instructor at Bucks County Community College, “Using hands-on experiments in my online course gives me the opportunity to provide my online students the same type of experience that a typical student that’s coming to the campus would have. This gives them the hands-on experience they need to ensure their credits are transferable while providing them with the flexibility to do the labs from their own home.”
The report also offers key considerations and practical takeaways, informed by instructor and student responses, for building an engaging and authentic lab experience online. To learn more, register for the live webinar, The 2023 Annual Lab Report: The Latest Research on Online Learning & STEM, which will cover findings from the survey as well as key trends in online learning from the Quality Matters CHLOE 8 report.
About Science Interactive
Science Interactive makes science education accessible to all students, no matter how far they are from campus. Our complete lab solution combines customizable kits, a rigorous digital curriculum, and cutting-edge technology that makes it easier to create and deliver a hands-on lab experience for students in online courses. Over 800 institutions nationwide partner with Science Interactive to expand their online science programs, increase student engagement, and improve success rates. To learn more, visit scienceinteractive.com.