Improve Student Engagement and Learning in Online Science Courses Through “Citizen Science” Projects

By Peter Jeschofnig, Ph.D., Institute for Excellence in Distance Science Education

When teaching on-campus classes, I involved my environmental science and environmental chemistry students in semester-long environmental monitoring projects like water chemistry, stream discharge, and aquatic invertebrate monitoring. I was not surprised to find that they were much more enthused about these hands-on, experiential projects than their standard lab experimentation.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get online students involved in similar activities? Well, with some planning, we can. Due to safety and equipment considerations, the activities cannot be exactly the same as I did with on-campus students, but there are related discovery activities that can contribute to the increase in students’ enthusiasm level beyond that of performing only traditional lab experiments.

ImageCitizen scientists are volunteers who participate in science research by collecting and/or analyzing data for a specific science project. The concept of citizen science is quite old; and by the above definition, Charles Darwin was a citizen scientist. The Audubon Society has been using the concept for more than 100 years by getting average citizens involved in their annual bird counts. Today, numerous projects exist where citizen scientists are needed and this may be an excellent way to get online students involved in actual science projects. Read more »

Citizen Science in Distance Learning

By Jill Nugent, PhD student, Texas Tech University

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge”  ~Carl Sagan

Citizen Science PictureIn the landscape of online higher education, faculty seek to engage students in learning science content and process skills and also aim to foster science literacy for all students.Citizen science can provide a great modality to facilitate student engagement and student learning in science.

In addition, the online science lab course can be a natural fit for implementing citizen science programs into the existing curriculum, and citizen science programs offer an excellent option for open-ended lab and field investigations.

Since citizen science projects typically involve real-world issues, questioning, making observations, investigating, monitoring, recording evidence, and more, they can help to model the true nature of science and can immerse students in the exciting process of science.

Below are helpful websites that provide information on existing citizen science projects that can easily be implemented into the online science lab experience:

Some more additional exemplary resources for further reading on citizen science include the following publications:

Using Videos to Enrich Your Teaching of Online Science Courses

By Peter Jeschofnig, PhD, Founder of IEDSE: Institute for Excellence in Distance Science Education and Co-Author of “Teaching Lab Science Courses Online”

ComputerMedia_webNo matter how carefully we design the content of a new online science course, once we start teaching and getting student feedback, we learn that students often need extra help and additional clarification with certain course concepts and assignments.  After teaching a course once, it becomes obvious where we need to incorporate supplemental materials to create a much improved subsequent offering.   Among the many improvements made should be instructional video clips snatched from the plethora of multi-media teaching tools available online. Read more »

Worlds of Learning – Let’s Get Virtual!

By Dr. John Jamison

Virtual_post

One of the emerging technologies for learning we’ve enjoyed watching develop is the collection of online, 3D, virtual-environment platforms. Becoming more visible with the entry of Second Life around 2003, a search will present a list of more than 1000 approaches to virtual environments, each with their own unique twist. Many of us were already exploring the use of “virtual” learning tools, using less intuitive tools to create “virtual humans;” examples of artificial intelligence on our computers. One of the approaches to that early work was Peter Plantec’s Virtual Humans: A Build-It-Yourself Kit, still available on Amazon and still of value to those interested in the field. I spent many hours with that book and CD, trying to recreate Peter’s “Sylvie,” the personality that lived on his computer, kept his schedule, and served as a “buddy.” Read more »

Tenured online science instructor shares his secrets of success

By Dr. James  Brown, Associate Professor of Science at Ocean County College

Dr. Jim Brown

Ocean County College (OCC) in Toms River, New Jersey has offered students online science courses since 2005. Jim Brown, Ph.D., teaches online human anatomy and physiology (A&P) and microbiology courses to OCC students. Why did he decide to move his courses online and has that changed the way he works with students? 

1. What was the need behind taking your courses online?

Our nursing program fueled our need to place science courses totally online. When I was the Dean of Science, Engineering, Health Sciences and Human Performance, we received a $458,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create a one-day per week nursing program, which is now called the On-Site, Online Nursing Program. This program is structured to allow students to pursue Associates Degrees in nursing online and only requires them to attend a face-to-face instructional session one day per week to complete their clinical training. The rest of their didactic training is obtained online.
Read more »

Celebrating our Veterans through Improved Access to Higher Education

By Linda Jeschofnig, Founder and CEO of Hands-On Labs 

This week, America honors the hundreds of thousands of Veterans who have so-well served our country and kept it safe from harm’s way. More than ever, since WWII, Veterans are seeking to improve their futures by going to college. The 2009 post- 9/11 GI Bill and numerous institutional initiatives are helping them do so.

The new GI Bill provides Veterans with excellent educational opportunities by covering the cost for in-state tuition and providing stipends to help with books and living expenses. These payments can be applied toward specialized training certificates, apprentice programs, college degrees, and even graduate programs. See:http://www.gibill.va.gov/.
Read more »

Teaching Tips for Online Science Instructors

Collaboration and the discussion of lab results is an important part of the learning process in any science course and can be easily incorporated into online-science courses via their Discussion Boards. Among the tips we give science instructors are the following on scheduling the due dates for lab reports and lab discussions:

  • Schedule the due date for Lab Reports to be on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Since most students do their lab assignments on the weekend, they may not be able to get immediate help if they run into problems. This delay also gives students time to reflect upon and reinforce what they experienced and learned in performing the lab before rushing to write their Lab Report. It is important to let students know the purpose of this due-date shift. Otherwise, they will be tempted to perform their labs the night before and the purpose behind the due-date shift will be negated.
  • Encourage Lab-Report postings to the Discussion Board on Wednesday and Thursday. This allows students to compare and contrast their observations and data with other students, further clarifying their thinking and reinforcing key concepts. Exercises utilizing combined class data can often be developed from this information. Since all lab reports will have already been submitted, students can’t utilize other’s information so there is no impact on academic integrity.

Resources to Help Struggling Students

Key1.jpgHow can instructors help struggling students who need tutoring and more assistance than the course time allows? For students willing to put in the extra time and energy to genuinely grasp difficult concepts, there are many new websites that can effectively serve in a self-guided tutoring role. These sites provide students with visual and interactive aids that may drive their understanding better than traditional textual explanations.  They also provide instructors with easy access to a history of the students’ activities and progress. Read more »