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Teaching Science Totally Online: Hands-On Lab’s LabPaqs and SoftChalk’s Cloud – Perfect Together

By Dr. James W. Brown

When I was the Dean of Science, Engineering, Health Science, and Human Performance at Ocean County College I learned about the wonders of using Hands-On LabsLabPaqs to allow us to teach laboratory-based science courses totally online using “wet labs” that could be shipped almost anywhere in the world. Additionally,SoftChalk LLC, allowed us to produce online courses far beyond anything we had produced before by adding interactivity to nearly every page of content. This changed our boring “death by outline and PowerPoint” approach into one in which we provided highly interactive content pages that were a work of art filled with learning exercises and games. We needed to produce both nursing courses and science courses to fulfill a $458,000 grant from the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which allowed us to produce a One Day per Week Nursing Program (now called the One Site/One Line Nursing Program). This program allowed students to attend clinical training one day per week while the didactic portion was delivered online. This opened up nursing to a whole new group of students who were limited by time, family commitments, work, or distance. It was an instant success and students from a much wider geographical area began coming to OCC to get their associate degree RN. This online education model addressed the hospital RN shortage crisis and has become a national model. 

A Lab in a Box

LabPaq equipment

Right away we recognized a major problem. The value of a One Day per Week Nursing Program was still limited if students were required to spendup to three days per week on campus taking science prerequisites. We needed to place our nursing prerequisite science courses totally online. We discovered LabPaqs by Hands-On Labs, from Englewood, Colorado which provided the missing piece of the puzzle. They produced a “lab in a box” called LabPaqs with everything we needed to fulfill the laboratory portion of the 4 credit science course in which 1 credit was the laboratory. The science courses needed for the nursing program were Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Microbiology, and an Introductory Chemistry course.

Student looking through a microscope with an oil immersion lens provided by Hands-on Labs, so they can see bacteria for a microbiology courseThere were some virtual laboratories available, but when we inquired about transferability of our science courses to other institutions of higher learning, the vast majority said they would not accept a science course with a virtual laboratory. However, they would accept one that included hands-on wet labs. We began using the LabPaqs which were very student-friendly. Shipped to the student’s location, they included everything needed to set up the laboratory in their home or even in military installations across the world for those deployed. Not only did it include a complete lab manual, but all necessary equipment and specimens needed to complete the rigorous science experiments. In the end, 14 science courses became available online and the demand for them continued to grow. Ocean County College became a Northeast powerhouse for producing and teaching online science courses.

Microbiology totally online using LabPaqs

This course is an excellent overview of microbiology … the laboratory is not a virtual laboratory but one that offers a complete hands-on laboratory experience the covers the fundamental microbiology laboratory skills. The course became so popular that OCC filled seven sections during the summer months more than any other school teaching a complete online microbiology course.Using Skype, I can now teach microbiology for soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, helping them use an oil immersion lens to see bacteria on their microscope almost as if they were sitting right next to me.

The Magic of SoftChalk

SoftChalk added an entirely new dimension to our online courses. Dr. Felix Rizvonov, a visionary director of learning technologies for Ocean County College, introduced us to SoftChalk, which any faculty member could master in a few hours. I instantly fell in love with it. It allowed us to add interactive content directly into the online course which engaged the students with lessons that included pop-up text annotations, self-assessment quizzes, and interactive learning games with fun tools such as crossword puzzles, and drag and drop. Both the faculty and students loved these features which made instruction much more interesting.

Games are both educational and fun in an online course. Here I inserted a Drag and Drop into the first module of a microbiology course which focused on the history of microbiology

I designed the course so that a learning activity is inserted at the bottom of every page. It reinforces the major concepts I wanted the students to learn in a fun and exciting way. I shot my own videos that would introduce various topics and placed them into a YouTube video and easily insert them into my online course. It was so easy to provide closed captions for the hearing impaired and insert them right into the SoftChalk page. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides timely videos that can be inserted instantly into the new SoftChalk Cloud which can link content items to multiple courses into multiple learning management systems (LMS).

In New Jersey I created a course entitled “Introduction to Public Health” which can be taught at all 19 community colleges in New Jersey at no cost to the institution. It doesn’t matter which LMS they use; if a link outdates, I can instantly change it and update it with all participating schools at once. I am just updating it now to track student score results directly into our BlackBoard grade book. On December 11, 2012, I received a President’s Award from the New Jersey Public Health Association for placing “Introduction to Public Health” online and teaching it from The Cloud providing new groups of students with the opportunity to consider a career in public health.

If I teach multiple sections of microbiology, I can make a change to all three sections at once. I can make the changes from any computer connected to the Internet.

LabPaqs and SoftChalk Cloud: Perfect Together

I have used the LabPaqs from Hands-On Labs with the SoftChalk Cloud to teach laboratory-based science courses on the other side of the world. It is a winning combination that makes science teaching and learning fun. It is making a huge impact on the ability of colleges and universities to extend their reach beyond their typical boarders and bring science to whole new communities. The students truly love these courses and love learning in a fun way with both of these extraordinary and beautiful tools from Hands-On Labs and SoftChalk.  I now teach science and public health for a number of colleges and universities and hope to move to teaching entirely online, which will allow more time to spend with my children. I truly enjoy this brave new world of bringing science online to students around the world.

Biography

Dr. Jim Brown giving a Webinar on Ten Tips to Teaching Science Totally Online for the Instructional Technology Council

Dr. James W. Brown, Associate Professor at Ocean County College and award-winning pioneer in online course delivery, especially in science and public health. He is affectionately called “The Godfather of Online Science” and was the Dean of Science, Engineering, Health Science, and Human Performance at Ocean County College where he helped place 14 science courses fully online. He currently teaches both science and public health online for a number of colleges and universities including Burlington County College, Mercer County Community College, Kean University, and the American Military University. He is a former vice president of a biotech corporation, Assistant Dean of New Jersey City University, Director of Microbiology at Roche, and New Jersey Assistant Commissioner of Health. He has won numerous awards for his teaching, especially online, including citations from the United States Senate and House of Representatives and both Houses of the New Jersey Legislature.   

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