Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:53 PM

I am wondering if anyone knows of well designed studies comparing learning outcomes for f2f versus online classes.

There is ample controversy and opinion about the efficacy of online science instruction and I am wondering if there is actual data. The area of virtual labs is of special concern. Has anyone used virtual labs and compared learning outcomes to actual wet labs covering the same topic.

I have been asked to look into this and am finding far more opinion than data :)

Thanks so much

Pamela Auburn
Pamela Auburn
68500 Activity Points

Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:17 PM

I too only have opinion to offer, but I'm also really interested in the subject. My class is blended; we do a fair amount of online work. For my part, I don't really view role of virtual labs/sims and wet labs as being the same (I teach chemistry). If the sims are replacing something in my class, its the more traditional textbook approach to concepts, rather than the wet labs. I really like that they gives the students a visual model of the chemistry from a particulate point of view. I try to do these as inquiry. Of course its important to stress that they are models, but the students seem to be able to process the chemistry better with this model. I'm less enamored with the virtual labs, such as the precipitation labs available online through SAS or ChemThink, because I think the wet lab is more appropriate for that. In wet labs students learn important process skills, get to apply what they've learned in class and ultimately how to design and run experiments (how to do science). Of course, not all schools have the facilities and budgets to do a lot of labs. Anyway, like I said, no data, just opinion. Would love to see some data too ..... great topic!

Rebecca Falin
Rebecca Falin
71295 Activity Points

Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:27 AM

Hi The NODE project through NOAA has been collecting surveys about their using data in the classroom program. I have not heard any reports about what they have found about students using their online system.

NODE Project
The NOAA Ocean Data Education (NODE) Project is developing curriculum for grades 6-8 designed to help teachers and students use real scientific data to explore dynamic Earth processes and understand the impact of environmental events on a regional or global scale.

NSTA LC hosted a web seminar last year on understanding ocean acidification

What I really liked about this program is the levels of inquiry presented and explored.

Here is a sequence for understanding ocean acidfication:

5 Invention: Design Your Own Investigation:
Students will design an investigation using real data
on conditions in the Caribbean study area. Students
will use this real data to try to answer a research
question of their choosing.

4 Interactivity: Aragonite Saturation & Marine
Calcifiers: Students will use online data to support or
disprove a simple hypothesis about increased
atmospheric CO2 and the health of marine calcifiers,
such as coral reefs.

3 Adaptation: Carbonate Buffering System: Students will use
online tools to recreate climate change model scenarios and
examine effects of increased CO2 on ocean acidity and
carbonate saturation levels.

2 Adoption: The Ocean-Carbon Connection: Students will use data
graphs of ocean pH, sea-surface temperature, and CO2 data to find
the driving factor behind ocean acidification.
1 Entry: Measuring Ocean pH: Students will examine data maps and
graphs to look for patterns and relationships that would explain variations
in ocean pH.

The levels provide a natural opportunity for you to adapt and customize
the curriculum module as needed. For example, if students already have
experience with the topic, you may find that you can skip the entry level

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
41755 Activity Points

Tue Jan 22, 2013 7:42 PM

I taught science online for more than a decade and was involved in very early online science courses. My student performances were evaluated by an external set of evaluators with pre- and post- testing over a period of two years and did very well.They were also interviewed online and verbally via selected phone conversations. The data ultimately made its way through DOE and NSF. I do not have access to those data. I was not teaching chemistry so wet labs were not involved and my college/grad students were challenged to actually ask questions and gather data with items available within their homes or schools. I am a bit of a techie teacher so if educators had access to sensors they were encouraged to use them. We did simulations as well as simple string and sticky tape inquiry. There are numerous ways to probe for understanding of content.

I have been following the change in the dynamics of top Ivy universities as they make their courses public (such as MIT) and now Princeton. The California state system is considering using more online courses for credit in lieu of F2F. You may be interested in following this shift in paradigm. Here is one site that discusses it:

This paragraph is insightful. "Online courses aren’t entirely new, but it’s difficult to underestimate just how powerful the California higher education system is. After former University of California President, Richard Atkinson, threatened to drop the SAT from admissions requirements, the College Board rushed to revamp the test for the entire country only a year after the threat. However goes California’s education system, so goes the nation."

It will be interesting to see what happens with lab inquiry as this process develops.

Does ACS have a position on teaching online courses vs. F2F at this time?

Here is a less opinionated look at what is happening with Princeton online course:

a recent article on getting the most value out of an online degree

and finally, for this post, an interesting NBC news byte:


Patricia Rourke
Patricia Rourke
45890 Activity Points

Tue Jan 22, 2013 7:56 PM

With respect to wet labs vs online labs, there are several sites of interest:

1. with requirement in Minnesota in mind and a few interesting tidbits:

2. an interestingproject with Dr. Alan Hunter of Youngstown University who had equipment available for crystallography and developed an outreach online program with high schools via an NSF grant:

Note how specific and limited, in addition to being exciting, the work is/was in the unit described in the above site.

3. interesting comments from 2011

comparison of online vs wet labs describing this issue: The world of science education seems to have been divided by an ongoing fight over whether online labs can substitute for traditional classroom (wet) labs. The purists insist that only wet labs (aka "hands-on" labs) can be used to teach science. The technologists tell us that great advances in technology allow great lab experiences online.

Both sides have valid points, which is why this dispute has not been resolved satisfactorily - until now.

and so it goes...let's hear other voices and learn your thinking on these blended " Smart Science Labs"

thanks for starting this thread, Pam, the future is interesting

Patricia Rourke
Patricia Rourke
45890 Activity Points

Thu Jan 31, 2013 12:25 PM

Pam, the Department of Education published a large meta-analysis report in 2010 which includes some comparisons about online v. essence, not many. My master's thesis was on this topic and is cited in there. We found no significant difference, but it was a smallish study and was an online section in an otherwise F2F class. Here is the link:

Wendy Ruchti
Wendy Ruchti
23010 Activity Points

Thu Jan 31, 2013 8:45 PM

Thank you, to all of you, for the provocative combination of links. I am deeply uneasy with the online direction of lectures and especially labs. I'm taking my first online course now, to see what it's like. I've always been a good student, but I have to say that I am stumped about how to organize myself for an online class (with E-book). At a minimum, it takes some getting use to.

Susanne Altermann
Susanne Altermann
190 Activity Points

Fri May 03, 2013 4:47 PM

This is a great thread. I didn't too many recent studies compared wet labs to virtual labs, although the following (written a decade ago) does discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of such labs. It would be nice to find something more recent given the advances in technology in the last few years.

Scheckler, R. K. (2003). Virtual labs: a substitute for traditional labs?. International Journal of Developmental Biology, 47(2/3), 231-236.

Patty McGinnis
Patricia McGinnis
25145 Activity Points

Sat May 04, 2013 8:50 AM

Virtual learning in the biological sciences: pitfalls of simply “putting notes on the web”

Web-Based Virtual Learning Environments: A Research Framework and a Preliminary Assessment of Effectiveness in Basic IT Skills Training
In the context of IT, there are no significant differences; but VLE students self-reported that they felt for effective with computers.

The Impact of E-Learning in Medical Education
They report that although there are no significant differences in terms of learning, e-learning potentially shifts the learning model to a more student-centered one wherein instructors facilitate learning. They also mention digital resources.

Learning effectiveness in a Web-based virtual learning environment: a learner control perspective
Shih-Wei Chou,Chien-Hung Liu
Research in Taiwan shows that VLE is better than traditional models.

Science learning in virtual environments: a descriptive study
Jorge Trindade1,Carlos Fiolhais2,Leandro Almeida3
Research in Portugal shows that 3D virtual environmental helps in certain aspects of learning Physics and Chemistry

I think that students that are already immersed in a digital world will find digital learning more their cup of tea than traditional methods. However, looking at all of our students, we know that not all of them have the same access and skills in technology. I think that is why we are seeing no significant differences in learning when we compare traditional and virtual environments. By the way, I know it is a popular canon in Educational Technology to associate the term digital natives to the younger generation and compare it with teachers who are assumed to be non-natives. But this does not take into account the issue of access in relation to equity.
One other thing that should be considered is the past educational experiences of VLE teachers. I think as we move forward, we will see differences in data in terms of the effectivity of VLE. The VLEs are also in their infancy stages.

Based on my personal experience, my writing improved tremendously due to emailing. Back in the days of paper, I did not write as much as I do. For me, I find writing on paper slower than typing on a keyboard or tapping on my phone/ipad. As for virtual labs, I do not use those a lot in class, because I think the ones out right now are not as good as f2f ones.

Mary Ann NG
Mary Ann Ng
3340 Activity Points

Mon May 06, 2013 12:55 PM

I know I saw an article in the Journal of Geoscience Education or maybe a GSA book at one time describing how labs are done in online courses but I cannot find it! I do know I talked to some people who were working on their MS in Geology from the online course offered by MS State and they told me they received rocks and mineral samples in the mail for mineralogy and petrology and that for the field experiences, they had to research and find local sites to visit on their own, collect data while there and then write research papers tying their results to published research.

I do not know how they teach safety, though, for people hitting rocks with hammers, I didn't think to ask that question.

Tina Harris
Tina Harris
65560 Activity Points

Mon Dec 16, 2013 6:08 PM

It's hard to compare because often there are other differences in the courses besides one of them being online and the other f2f. However, a number of years back I did have the opportunity to do a fairly controlled experiment, where I taught the same course online as I had taught in a classroom. The two classes had the same textbook, the same assignments, the same exams (with the final exam proctored in both cases), and the same professor. The online students had significantly lower scores. I can think of quite a few reasons why that might be the case. One of these days, I hope to find the time to publish those results.


Matt Bobrowsky
Matthew Bobrowsky
3855 Activity Points

Thu Jan 30, 2014 6:15 PM

This is such an interesting thread! I am excited to read some of the research being shared here. It is a bit frightening to me to think the data might show no measurable difference in learning between online science lab courses and wet labs. When I think of the great learning experiences my peers and I have had: in my high school physics class, we went outdoors learning physics as we used surveyor's equipment; or getting up at 5:30 a.m. for my college ornithology course to trek around with my professor who modeled bird calls to bring the real live birds into our views; or my Fresh Water Algae course where we went bog walking on real bogs in Northern Michigan. How could these learning experiences possibly be compared to an online science course? If we have to revert to all online courses in the future because it will most certainly be cheaper, I can't help but feel students will be cheated of great, real life learning experiences. Virtual reality is NOT the real thing!

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
79588 Activity Points

Fri Sep 05, 2014 7:37 PM

This is a wonderful thread.
I have not read the research on the topic, but I tend to agree with you.
While I love the flexibility and the many other advantages of online learning, I believe that some experiences need to happen in person using real materials for participants to get the most benefit.

Naomi Beverly

Naomi Beverly
Naomi Beverly
19130 Activity Points

Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:34 PM

Certainly a very interesting and pertinent thread now given the huge growth in online courses that has occurred over recent years. My feeling is that online science classes and labs represent just one more teaching technique I can put in my educator's tool-bag. And like all my teaching tools, virtual science labs could be effectively used sometimes but certainly not all the time. Despite what the research may say, I am a firm believer that students learn in different ways and I should always try to meet the needs of all the learning styles. Therefore, there are definitely some situations whereby I would only consider using a wet lab but in other cases, I am sure a virtual lesson could be just as effective. A combination of methods can still result in cost-saving and yet not deprive students the thrill of the hands-on experience of performing a real titration (and going past the end-point) or tip-toeing through a stinky bog.

Brian Yamamura
Brian Yamamura
7410 Activity Points

Wed Feb 05, 2014 12:54 PM

As I read this forum I find that I am thinking more and more about the blending of experiences real and virtual. From 2008 to 2011 I was a docent for ISTE virtual island in Second Life. It was an interesting experience working 'side by side' with educators from all over the world in this virtual grid experience. I agree with comments made learning styles and learning needs as one of the most interesting experiences was working with folks with severe mobility issues who could navigate themselves within this virtual world. It was a freeing experience for them. Of course not a real and certainly a contrived experience but gave them some virtual feeling of 'normal movement'

I am wondering if anyone here has used augmented reality as a teaching/learning tool ?

Augmented Reality in education looks at how AR is having an impact on schools around the world. Created by Paul Hamilton, leader in augmented reality in schools and education.
Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. Paul is a leader in the implementation of Augmented Reality in schools to improve learning outcomes, Professional Development of staff with integration of ICTs, and has expertise in the implementation of mobile devices into pedagogical frameworks.

Paul's work looks interesting and the blending of both real and virtual,

Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
41755 Activity Points

Thu Feb 06, 2014 12:03 PM

Thanks Arlene for the info as it is the first time I have heard of, or seen, AR used in education. I checked out the links you provided and delved more into Aurasma in a bit more detail via the Youtube web seminars. My conclusion is that it certainly has tremendous potential and is a definite hook for introducing students into such things as math concepts. However, the downside is that teachers obviously require knowledge and training in using these apps which could involve quite a time investment. In addition, this only works if all students have the required technology such a iPads or smartphones to use in class.

However, given these requirements, I would love to try it this out in combination with a real-life experience. For example, I could see students doing an outdoor lab in the forest where they need to consider things such as plant identification and ecosystem relationships. Aurasma could then be used to supplement what the students actually see with a video clip providing further information. So students could be required to select a conifer to identify and describe and then using the actual tree as the trigger image, view a short video providing further details about, for example, how the thickness of the cedar bark can protect it even during forest fires. I think such a combination of real and virtual experience outside the classroom could be very powerful. But of course, the time and planning to initially set this all up could be significant. And then there is the issue of having an internet connection "in the woods"....!

I am interested to hear from others who have used AR or have even considered it.

Brian Yamamura
Brian Yamamura
7410 Activity Points

Wed Feb 12, 2014 6:13 PM


I teach an introductory chemistry course at the nearby community college. Students earn a lab credit by completing virtual labs. While I have my doubts about the ability of these virtual labs being able to replace true hands on, I think that sometimes there labs that are better ran in a virtual sense so students can attain better results.

I am having most trouble with the discussion aspect. Students are fairly trained to respond to the prompt and provide one more response and that is it. I recently redid all my discussion prompts to have students work together to engage in scientific argumentation. This has proven to have mixed results. While some students have done really well (and I am pleased with the uptick in interactivity), others have not. In fact, I have been faced with comments such as, "there is no way to complete group projects without seeing each other face to face." This is on the heels of me providing the prompt, some websites to help them start their research, a writing frame for their argument and suggestions on how to divvy up the work. Sigh. While I realize that it is a shift in thinking, I would have thought that students who are accustomed to interacting in social media a little more capable of interacting online.

If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I would like to add more inquiry based labs, but time has not allowed for me to get that far (yet). That, and I am uncertain if the results virtually won't pre-destine everyone to have the same answer.


Susan German
Susan German
31035 Activity Points

Sun Mar 23, 2014 10:53 PM


What LMS system are you using. Each is very different in its ability to support effective collaboration. I am current using both Blackboard (which I love) and D2L (very limited)
I would be happy to talk to you about my experience and how I program the system.

Pamela Auburn
Pamela Auburn
68500 Activity Points

Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:19 PM

The college uses a LMS system from the publisher. I believe the name is eCollege. We currently use,, for the online lab credit.

I am very interested in anything you have to share, Pam.

Susan German
Susan German
31035 Activity Points

Tue Apr 01, 2014 10:48 PM

I do not have data, but I have two of my own children who completed high school science classes. They did most of their classes in a traditional setting. However, they each took 2-4 classes through our state's virtual school. They both commented that the virtual school labs were "useless" because they just followed the steps to put the checks in the blocks. In the classroom, the teacher could explain when necessary.

I would say that online learning can be done, but it must be carefully constructed.

Steve Kirsche
Stephen Kirsche
8985 Activity Points

Tue Apr 08, 2014 7:24 AM

Your students could meet virtually in a more f2f manner using a Google hangout or the free video meeting feature of Wiggio. While I haven't done any of this with students, it has been useful for other projects I have been involved with.

Cris DeWolf
Cris Dewolf
10995 Activity Points

Fri May 16, 2014 11:25 AM

Hi All:
Has anyone looked at the NSTA Position statement about this area?

Here is a comparison at the college level:

There are so many benefits for online that I believe that will be the future of education. As a summer online educator one summer it is not an easy task at all.


Adah Stock
Adah Stock
101470 Activity Points

Sat Sep 06, 2014 9:08 PM

I took a number of courses and workshops with this organization when it was known as Sloan-C
Noticed that there was some discussion on the thread about online science labs.

Is anyone here familiar with workshops being offered on science labs online. They look interesting but pricey
[i]The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is the leading professional organization devoted to advancing the quality of online learning worldwide. The member-sustained organization offers an extensive set of resources for professional development and institutional advancement of online learning, including, original research, leading-edge instruction, best-practice publications, community-driven conferences and expert guidance. OLC members include educators, administrators, trainers and other online learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises.
Transform your online science laboratory courses into a creative, engaging, and highly motivated learning community that will attract new online learners. The OLC Online Science Labs Mastery Series is specifically designed for science educators and administrators who want to teach their science and laboratory components online. Our program provides an extensive overview of the current status of online laboratory science courses and where they are headed in this rapidly changing environment.


Arlene Jurewicz-Leighton
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
41755 Activity Points

Sat Dec 10, 2016 11:07 AM

The most successful online science lab course I've seen used home kits for the labs, delivered by the lab company (Carolina Biological) to students' homes. The students carried out the experiments as a group, with the instructors' online, synchronous supervision. I wouldn't try that at the high school level (nor will Carolina Biological, for both cost and liability reasons), but at the college level it was very effective.

Susan Gendreau
Susan Gendreau
80 Activity Points

Tue Jul 28, 2015 8:12 AM

Online education programs are revolutionizing how people learn. From continuing education courses to PhDs, more people want to get their college education online every year, increasing the variety of institutions offering online degrees and distance learning programs.
But humanity is faced with this many years ago, when all sorts of online training was started, such as or for example

Lolita Rogers
Lolita Rogers
10 Activity Points

Tue Sep 29, 2015 1:35 AM

When it comes to Science, I feel it is best done face to face rather than online. In science, one can easily make mistakes or misunderstand one thing another. I once had a science class online and I did not do as expected until i retook it in person. With experience I can say that any science subjects are better when taken in class.

Nadia Manasia
Nadia Manasia
1765 Activity Points

Sat Dec 10, 2016 1:48 AM

That would be interesting information, I have considered online teaching as an option after I graduate. I am a student teacher at the moment. I still do not know what I will end up doing, but as you know, that can change over the years anyways. Interesting though to look at the data of things like this.

Courtney Black
Courtney Black
975 Activity Points

Sat Dec 10, 2016 10:58 AM

I've found little well-designed research that compares outcomes head-to-head from almost any two (or more) teaching methods. (I'd be happy to be schooled by readers here.) That's easy to miss, given all the writing promoting this method or that. Of course, much of that writing makes money for the writers.

For instance, I'm only aware of one solid study comparing the outcomes of well-taught guided inquiry and student-centered direct instruction -- and that study concluded that the results are comparable, which is not the politically correct answer.

I suspect that, just as we've always said, the teaching method used matters much less than the teacher using it.

Susan Gendreau
Susan Gendreau
80 Activity Points

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