eScience Labs: The Perfect Partner in Online Science. But don’t just take our word for it, hear from actual professors.
Meet the Professors:
Dr. Roy Mason teaches a variety of biology and environmental science classes at Mt San Jacinto College in Menifee, California. He earned his B.A. degree at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.
He has received National Science Foundation, ATEEP Fellowships to study urban and agricultural pollution as it affects water resources; fossil fuel production and distribution in Alaska; and most recently to study alternative energy production in Denmark. He also serves as President of the San Jacinto River Basin Resource Conservation District. He is a member of the California Teachers Advisory Council to the California Council on Science and Technology.
Professor Nahel Awadallah teaches traditional and online Anatomy & Physiology I & II at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He graduated from Long Island University with an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology and a graduate degree in Microbiology. While working as a full-time assistant research scientist at NYU Langone Medical Center, Professor Awadallah also served as a biology and chemistry instructor at New York City Technical College.
While holding the title of Director of Programs for Natural Sciences, PE and Health at Johnston Community College, he was responsible for leading the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for which he received approval by SACS in October 2012. He presents at major higher education conferences in the USA and Canada, discussing topics related to online science education. He is also a member of the Curriculum Committee for Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS).
Ahead Of Its Time
eScience Labs: How/why did you decide to build an online science course program?
RM: Back in 2003, our VP of Instruction came to the Biology Department with this “unique” opportunity. The College was developing a fully online Associate’s Degree and our non-major’s one semester general biology course had been designated as the science course, with lab, for the degree.
Like all good faculty members, we responded, “Over our dead bodies! You cannot teach a laboratory science class online”. After a lot of “negotiating” I “volunteered” to design the class and shepherd it through the approval process.
Peace of Mind
eScience Labs: Was transferability an issue when building online?
RM: Transferability was one of the major issues. As the College was proposing a fully online, transferable degree, the course had to meet all of the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum) requirements in order to transfer to all California higher education institutions. In order for the course to be approved by our Curriculum Committee, our College requires that all online courses be in “parity” with (not identical to, but meeting all the same learning objectives) on-campus offerings. The Biology 115 course, which is our non-major general biology class with laboratory, satisfied the 4 semester units of the biological science requirement.
This was a “doable” challenge for the lecture portion of the classes, but a real problem for the laboratory portion of the biology class. Back in those days we had 12 separate learning objectives for the lab, most of which included hands-on “wet lab” applications. This was also a huge point of contention among science faculty as the general consensus was that an online lab was just not feasible given the technology of the time.
Then we found eScience Labs - they provide authentic laboratory experiences in parity with the on-campus labs. Students are given the opportunity to use real scientific supplies, materials and equipment throughout hands-on experiments, which is what labs should be about. Prior to eScience, the laboratory instructions were basically written text with a few graphics. The eScience digital lab manual accompanying each lab relieved me of having to put together laboratory directions in a more meaningful, visually written and interactive format. I could not have done this myself. They have also solved the “accessibility” requirements that we had been struggling with in light of the scrutiny of our online sections to meet said requirements.
Saving You Time and Money
eScience Labs: You still teach on campus as well but in what ways has eScience Labs helped you and your students make the transition from on-campus to online?
RM: I love to teach in both formats but I had always preferred the on-campus interactions with students. The addition of the eScience labs has given me an opportunity to concentrate on the “interactive” technologies of our CANVAS delivery system and not worry so much about laboratory design. I used to spend hours trying to modify my laboratory instructions to make them more palatable to students. eScience has done that job for me.
Now that I can concentrate on more student-friendly interactions and discussions, my online classes feel more like on-campus experiences. I think it helps both me and my students take full advantage of “accessing” our college’s classes and learning resources.
Online vs. On-campus
eScience Labs: Can you provide a comparison of online labs to on-campus labs?
NA: Online students receive the same laboratory exercises that on-campus students receive in class. The only difference is that online students can perform the labs at home while traditional students can’t.
For example, a typical on-ground lab of A&P includes everything from cell biology to the nervous system and senses.
The online experience for these labs also includes items like the microscope, slides, an anatomically correct skeleton, clay to construct the muscles using the skeleton, and dissections. All other supplies are included in the kit, organized and clearly labeled to help students easily locate the supplies needed to perform the experiment at home.
Instructions are provided via the eScience Student (and Teacher) Portal and is integrated into the LMS for the faculty. Resources such as the eScience Labs videos, which walk the students through the experiments, the lab manual instructions, step-by-step guides, and lab reports are all provided. This allows students to perform the experiments with little guidance from the instructor.
eScience Labs: What are the biggest benefits you’ve seen through online teaching vs. on-campus?
NA: Rigor and quality of the at home labs are equivalent to the experiments performed in a traditional laboratory. Student performance averages in the lab practical are one letter grade higher than traditional students. Additionally, students are able to take charge of their learning since they study at their own pace.
RM: The community college system, including Mt. San Jacinto, was designed to provide affordable, accessible college education to students who, in many cases, would not have been able to complete a college degree. Our online version of the course has given us the ability to reach a countless number of students. Unfortunately, we were impacted by the lack of laboratory space on campus, leaving hundreds of students on our waitlist each year. However, because of eScience Labs and all that it has added to our online offering, those students are now able to not only complete their associate degrees but go on to further educational opportunities and/or successful careers.
Achieving The Ultimate Goal
eScience Labs: Do you have any great student success stories you’d like to share?
RM: We have been offering the course now for over 15 years. We currently do some 400 students in the online format every year, that’s thousands of students over that time period. We serve local students, students from other community colleges and universities all over the state and nation, we have even had students overseas, on ships and in military installations around the world.
A very recent success story is a single mother who started her college career in 2001. As a disabled student with untold physical and emotional problems, whose first language wasn’t English, she struggled to find the time and financial resources to go to college. She was not able to finish her degree because she needed the science requirement and just could not dedicate the on-campus time commitment to the laboratory. She took my class, one of my best students, regularly attending the online office hours and help sessions to finish her degree. She was honored as being the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation giving a truly inspiring speech. She is the recipient of numerous scholarships and acceptance to Cal State San Bernardino where she will no doubt finish her bachelor’s a whole lot quicker than her associate’s degree.
NA: Students really enjoy the dissections. I receive many emails of students stating that dissecting the fetal pig and sheep’s heart was their favorite part of the course. Others speak highly of the blood-typing lab. I never expected my online students to meet each other and study but I actually had more online student-to-student collaborations than I did in my traditional courses. This was an expected surprise. It is a highly active online learning environment which enhances student’s enthusiasm as they take an active role in their own learning. And as a result, all of my students who take A&P I online, register to take A&P II with me the following semester. As a professor, retention is one of the highest compliments you can get.