STEM Online Courses
Showcase UAF Online STEM Courses
Weather and Climate of Alaska
Blackboard Demo Course (available for view)
- students perform research based in their own communities
- students report on local conditions and compare their data to the National Weather Service data for their region
- students create video screencasts and share via Blackboard Discussion Forum
- Labs are both wet and dry and required a rethinking during design to be able to safely perform basic experiments in the kitchen or measurements using standard equipment. For labs that require a laboratory, videos were produced that incorporated step by step overviews and pause so students can record the measurement for their calculations.
- mailed out lab kits that fit inside in a standard shipping size USPS box.
- video material in the course includes: instructor unit introductions, instructor’s lesson, remedial concepts, how to use lab equipment, how to set up and monitor weather station equipment, TA’s lab instructions, and how to use computer technology (like spreadsheets for data analysis).
Example video from the lab for an investigation on air pressure:
- community of scholars and researchers focus to exploring the complex topic of salmon and it’s connection with various groups including Indigenous peoples
- engaging students directly with local communities to facilitate conversations
- very clear expectations in syllabus
- interactive video content
- discussion focus
- open access MOOC – equable experience for anyone
- students participate in real observational research at any time and from any place
- students independently observe recorded mouse behaviors under different experimental conditions
- students can design parameters for research
- students analyze collected data and participate in discussion
- students collect specimens from local area for dissection
- kits are provided for $10 through the Bookstore
- students record dissection using their smartphones and macro apparatus on a stage
- citizen science component for plant location and identification through mobile app
- course materials include a custom deck of cards for plant identification
- video-rich course with extensive videos on dissection technique and botany concepts
Designing Online Science Courses
Other than the lab component, what are the best practices in design and teaching of the online science courses ? Basically, the same as any other online course with a few additional considerations, including:
Consider using a pass/fail entrance and exit survey to assess knowledge coming into the course and exiting the course. This will help you know the level of the incoming cohort and how much they improved during your course and whether your material was successful in meeting the learning outcomes for the course.
Create a community of sharing in the course with regular discussions. Conversation can revolve around a combination of elements such as lab experiments and experiences, current events in your discipline, scholarly reading groups, case studies, etc.
Engage students in creation for professional practice. Students could create lab science report presentations that are augmented by photographs, audio and video and are shared with the rest of class.
How can you engage students in your field within their personal interest and their own community? Could they go on an observational field trip to investigate a question they are interested in? Could they design their own experiment relevant to their location?
eCampus has templates to help you get started. Here is a link to our syllabus template. If you would like for us to set up a development Blackboard shell with our starting-place template for distance students, please just fill out the form on this page to request a new shell.
Top 10 list of effective practices from Dietmar Kennepohl (author of Teaching Science Online)
- Engage students early
- Focus on concepts and not on technology
- Team approach (including collaborative exercises)
- Exploring MOOCs, open resources – don’t have to reinvent
- Avoid cognitive overload
- Use tech you are comfortable with
- Don’t assume that people know things – there are no digital natives
- Exploit technology where it has the most impact – use sparingly (make use for automation)
- If you are using videos – keep them short and concise – use audio podcasts
- Expect students to use technology in unexpected ways – use it as opportunities for learning
Designing Online Labs
Often, one of the foremost considerations in the design and development process for STEM courses is the lab component. While this is sometimes thought of as a potential barrier to putting courses online, it often just requires a re-thinking of expectations of how the lab will operate.
For example, do you have ‘wet’ labs or ‘dry’ labs? Wet labs, in particular, may need to be redesigned carefully, as they may contain materials or equipment that is not easily accessible for students at a distance or there may be safety concerns that are prohibitive for conducting these labs at home. Dry labs will also need to be rethought to some extent because the order of operations may be technical and require the creation of step-by-step instructions captured in a screencast or video.
Instructional designers can help you through redesigning your lab, from planning and assessment of learning outcomes to brainstorming new activities and instructions. Alternative lab experiences might include (read more on the taxonomy of distance labs):
- simulations/virtual labs
- remote access labs
- kitchen labs
- lab kits
- low-residency intensives
You may find following the steps below helpful in your design process:
Step 1 – Learning Objectives
When reformatting your labs for the online modality it is best practice to first examine and refine your lab learning objectives. This will help you devise a strategy for successful attainment of the goals for the lab, which may not end up exactly the same but will be equivalent to your face-to-face modality. It may be helpful to revisit national standards for your discipline during this process if there are any.
Step 2 – Activities
Next, you will want to examine what activities are required of students during the lab and why they are doing it. Think about ways that students could potentially do the same activity at home or a different activity that hits the same learning objectives. This may take some research and creativity – are there simulations available that you could use, would recording a video of the procedure in such a way that students could pause the video to take down measurements work, is this something they could do in their own backyard? What will be the result of the lab? Will students design their own explorations to some extent? Is there a way to use what is happening in the student’s local community for the lab activities? Brainstorm your labs one by one. This Teaching Tip on student engagement in the online lab might also help generate some ideas.
Step 3 – Interaction
For each lab, think about the peer interaction each activity will require and what goals does it fulfill for the lab? Do you normally require lab partners? Would a general discussion after each lab help meet the goals or would it be better to break students into groups to compare their results. Is it possible to engage the student with their local community in some way? How are students going to share what they find?
Step 3 – Materials
List all materials that will be necessary for students to do the redesigned online lab on their own. Do some research – can you find the necessary lab materials easily online? Is there a kit that you could put together from component pieces? Here are some resources for finding lab kit equipment:
There are some practicalities to consider such as standards of the field and funding models for purchasing lab kits, how customized your kit needs to be, etc.
Step 4 – Content
Revise the content of your lab to match the new parameters for the online modality. Include remedial information for refreshers on things students should know how to do going into the lab. You may need to create a lab demo or video lecture, just as you would do in your face-to-face version.
Related Teaching Tips
Finding Open Resources
Open Education Resources (OER) are available for many topics that you may be teaching. From open MIT lectures to Khan Academy to Open Textbooks to interactive simulations. These are freely available and can be useful when you need to convey information that you feel is covered well by others – or is a tool to use for learner-learner or learner-instructor interaction – there is no need to recreate the wheel!
The UAA/APU Consortium Library offers a great step-by-step search strategy for finding OER if you are struggling with getting started.
Here are links to just a few examples of the type of resources you can find:
Tools for Collaboration
Simulations and Activities
- GenChem Hub – chemistry resource links
- The Concord Consortium STEM Resource (finder) – engaging interactive activities that you can embed into your course, filterable by grade level.
- PHET Interactive Simulation – simulations for a variety of contexts and disciplines.
- HHMI BioInteractive – interactive explorations of mostly biology-related topics
- Simulations of Virtual Microscopes
- Interactive Periodic Table
Content – Textbooks and General OER Repositories
Creating Rich Media Resources
Providing rich media content can help foster student engagement and understanding of complex topics. They can also be a critical connection for students to remedial resources. UAF eCampus provides an array of media services to assist you, learn more on the Media Studio page.
Related Teaching Tips