North Carolina State University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 4158-4167
ISBN: 978-84-613-5538-9
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 4th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 8-10 March, 2010
Location: Valencia, Spain
Most introductory courses at our University are taught in a standard lecture-based format in classrooms of 150-250 students. In this environment, there is little interaction with the instructor or the course content, and some students have expressed dissatisfaction with lectures that consist mainly of bullet points on PowerPoint™ slides. With the emergence of the Internet and tools for constructing multimedia, we decided to utilize digital technology to provide an interactive environment for introductory biology courses. Our goals were to increase the depth of student learning and retention of major biological concepts and to develop student skills in synthesis of information, critical thinking, and problem solving. Over a 2-year period we have developed a section of the 4-credit hour course Introductory Biology II which is offered non-synchronously via the Internet and includes a virtual laboratory component. This section offers a flexible alternative for students on campus as well as providing a distance education opportunity for off-campus and non-degree students. The course website consists of weekly topics with outlines of the major points and links to more detailed content. During their exploration of each topic, students interact with learning objects and discover information through videos, animations, and images with audio narration and scrolling text. The most challenging aspect of this course was the development of an online laboratory experience. Although, we could not provide “hands on” experience with laboratory materials and equipment, we were successful in producing laboratory exercises that demonstrated equipment use through videos recorded in our laboratory classroom. With the assistance of Flash-Zoomify™ technology and a Java programmer, we also provided simulations of equipment, such as microscopes and spectrophotometers, which students used to collect laboratory data. Other web-based tools included simulations of protein and DNA electrophoresis and a web-based plotter for graphing data. Since online laboratory procedures require less time than those performed in the classroom, we were able to add additional activities and applied problems. The weekly laboratory component was based on assignments that included digital images captured and labeled by the students, genetics problems, and tasks requiring data analysis and critical thinking skills. In order to grade the weekly work of 70 students in a reasonable time period, we utilized WebAssign™, a provider of web-based instructional tools that specializes in online homework submission and quizzing. This allowed approximately half of each assignment to be graded automatically, while the remainder could be efficiently graded online by teaching assistants with feedback to students on incorrect answers. Student response to the course has been positive, including enthusiastic comments about the online laboratories. Based on grade distribution, student questionnaires, focus groups and quality of student work, we conclude that students in the online section are more motivated, have a greater understanding of biological concepts and are better at analyzing data than students in the standard classroom sections.
Teaching technology, online laboratories, undergraduate learning, distance education.