Two research questions guided this literature review: (1) R1: How can one support a high-enrollment physiology/anatomy online course? And (2) R2: Are online labs effective for a high-enrollment physiology/anatomy online course?
Rebecca et al. (2018) conducted a study to evaluate student experience in online chemistry/organic chemistry laboratory courses. Comparing two different types of lab activities (hands-on for online general chemistry course vs. virtual for online organic chemistry course), the researchers concluded that students perceived the online laboratory experience was the same as or better than their prior experiences in the traditional setting. Also, data suggested that students who took online labs performed better than those who did not.
Gopal et al. (2010) conducted a study to identify if interactive technology tools can improve performance for the undergraduate anatomy and physiology lab students. In this case, they looked at an online tool designed to teach about the cardiovascular system. Statistical analysis revealed that those who used an interactive practice/test tool showed a significant improvement in their performance.
Diwakar et al. (2010) investigated the effects of 20 web-based virtual labs with more than 170 online experiments (content of experiments were not described in the study) in Biotechnology and Biomedical engineering disciplines for undergraduate and graduate students. Results implied that students were satisfied with the online labs, able to easily interpret the results of experiments and run the experiments without a problem. Usage case studies indicate remote labs can be a complementary educational tool to reinforce conceptual understanding, and for experiential learning.
Stefanie et al (2018) compared the learning outcomes between face-to-face and online anatomy classes using Blackboard Collaborate virtual classrooms. Online laboratories were offered using Blackboard Collaborate and three‐dimensional (3D) anatomical computer models. Final grades were statistically identical between the two groups.
University of Minnesota shares the five best practices to facilitate an online biology course with a lab. The best practices emphasize active learning strategies (e.g., authentic assessments, group learning) as well as the importance of instructional design (e.g., usability, explicit expectations, content of assessments, etc). The five best practices are: 1) Engage students in online interactive groups, 2) Create sequenced, varied, authentic assessments, 3) Build in maintainable sustainability, 4) Create a usable learning environment, and 5) Engage students in online interactive groups.
The use of authentic research assessments (content of assessments were not described in the study) in a face-to-face introductory biology lab course showed a significant increase in students’ understanding of the nature of authentic research and critical thinking (Gasper & Gardner, 2013).
Researchers stated that provision of guidance for supporting student inquiry in a science online lab is critical. Inquiry-based science courses follow a four-phase process: 1) orientation, 2) conceptualization, 3) investigation, and 4) conclusion. In a thorough literature review by Zacharias et al. (2015), effective means/tools to help students succeed in inquiry-based online science labs include 1) process constraints, 2) performance dashboard, 3) prompts, 4) heuristics, 5) scaffolds, and 6) direct presentation of information. Online labs refer to the virtual and remote labs offered through computer technology in this context.