Posted by: emapey | June 22, 2009

Science Labs for Online Science Courses

Examples from faculty teaching online science laboratory courses.

Universities using lab kits and other methods to offer lab sciences at a distance, University of Arkansas Distance Education Task Force Blog

Free online physics, chemistry, biology, earth science and math simulations, PhET project at the University of Colorado.

Home Dissection Kits and More, Inside Higher Ed

Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger Web Based Virtual Experiment, Department Process & Chemical Engineering, University College Cork

Physics simulations with Java, MyPhysicsLab You’ll see them animating in real time, and be able to interact with them by dragging objects or changing parameters like gravity.

No Test Tubes? Questions Arise On Virtual High School Science, New York Times

Interactive, online simulations for the life science laboratory or for earth science field studies, Sciencecourseware

Science Labs: Virtual Versus Simulated, THE Journal

Virtual Lab — Vivid Animations Help Students With Science Experiments, Science Daily

Science Labs of the Future, Converge

Biology Online Labs, McGraw-Hill Higher Education

In 2002, SDCCD Miramar College faculty developed and pilot tested an online biology laboratory course for non-science major students, Innovation Express

Virtual laboratory simulations for science education, OnlineLabs

Kitchen Science Experiments The Naked Scientists



  1. Thank you for including my T.H.E. article in your list.

    To summarize, I make two important points.

    1. Simulations (Java applets, Flash animations, etc.) do not provide a true science laboratory experience and even distort the concept of the nature of science. They are not a valid substitute for a good science lab.

    2. Because you cannot get all of the science you’d like from at-home experiments, they should be supplemented by something; I recommend prerecorded real experiments. They do not distort the nature of science.

    As more and more companies and individuals develop simulated labs, we absolutely must stand firm against using these in place of good hands-on lab experience.

  2. I’m amazed at how technology is changing teaching! What a boon for students in rural settings to be able to exposed to science experiments requiring equipment beyond the scope of their small school laboratories.

    Now, when they come up with an online microbiology simulation, I will be the first to sign up for a course. That was one of my favourite courses in my whole college career. If I had it to do all over again, I would probably be a microbiologist.

  3. @Norma Rickman:

    Why have a microbiology simulation when you can have actual microbiology material photographed in laboratories and presented to you on the Internet?

    You’ll find plenty of drawings and animations to use in understanding concepts. Simulations are just the same thing with allowing you to page through them.

    A picture of worth a thousand words. Real images are worth lots more than drawings for understanding real science rather than what some book or animator wishes you to memorize.

    Use drawings and animations and simulations for concepts. Use the real thing for science.

  4. I have always wondered if it was possible to complete labs for lab courses offered online. I now know it is

  5. Michael Learner has stated the situation quite accurately. For many people, the nature of science is elusive. The real world allows people to begin to understand it. The simulated world does not.

    By the way, virtual and simulated are NOT synonymous. See

    Virtual can be real as in the Mars Rover program.

    The bottom line is about goals. For learning content, simulations may be a better option than a textbook or a video in some cases. Labs are not very good at delivering content learning efficiently, although any content you do learn through discovery is more likely to be retained.

    For learning about the nature of science and developing scientific reasoning skills, investigating the real world beats all other approaches by a huge margin. Science courses should provide this experience, which generally is not tested for in exams.

    It’s all about balance. Part of your science course must teach content. At the same time, you should be learning about science: the nature of science, scientific reasoning, the complexity and ambiguity of the work scientists do. Textbooks, demonstration, videos, and simuilations approach the former. True science labs (scientific investigations of the real world) introduce you to the latter.

  6. I currently offer an online microbiology course that utilizes home based, hands-on eScience Lab kits as well as a virtual case study lab. I am also developing Online Basic Chemistry I & II courses and others are in the pipeline.

    David K. Novick
    Faculty Associate, Sciences
    MCPHS Online
    MCPHS University

  7. The online science lab technology has evolved to “online hands-on science labs.” It’s a great way to do lots more labs than can be done in classrooms or with lab kits.

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