“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin
This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on improving online science courses with the creation of virtual labs that empower and engage online students. Start with part 1 if you need the WHAT and the WHY. In this post, I want to give you the resources you need to answer the HOW.
Here is a rundown of the types of resources that I have included. This is the resource that I wish I would have had when I started building my own online labs. There should be something to fit every situation and every budget (including no budget at all):
- The 21 best free virtual lab simulation resources
- 20 hands-on kitchen science lab activities (most cost under $5)
- Case study resources
- Ideas for building your own low-cost lab kit
- The 4 best (paid) all-in-in virtual simulation resources
- The 2 best (paid) hands-on lab kit options
Note: I want this post to be your go-to resource for online course lab information. To save you time I have included short excerpts from many of the websites I am mentioning. This info will be in italics.
21 Best Free Virtual Lab Simulation Resources:
1. HHMI BioInteractive Virtual Labs:
“The virtual labs are fully interactive simulations in which students perform experiments, collect data, and answer questions to assess their understanding. The labs combine animations, illustrations, and videos to convey key information and engage students in the process of science.”
[Biology, Microbiology, Anatomy & Physiology, Biotechnology, and Evolutionary Biology]
Click here to get started with their seven virtual labs. The quality of these simulations is unmatched by any other free resource. I would also recommend checking out their lab demos and their Click and Learn series.
2. PhET Interactive Simulations:
“Founded in 2002 by Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, the PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder creates free interactive math and science simulations. PhET sims are based on extensive education research and engage students through an intuitive, game-like environment where students learn through exploration and discovery.”
[Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry, Earth Science, and Math]
Click Here to get started. PhET Simulations are some of the most popular interactive teaching resources in the world for a reason. Some of my favorites include Gene Expression Essentials, Eating and Exercise, and Sugar and Salt Solutions.
Check out this video from the PhET YouTube channel for a nice introduction:
3. MERLOT collection:
“The MERLOT system provides access to curated online learning and support materials and content creation tools, led by an international community of educators, learners, and researchers.”
[All math and science topics]
Click Here to check it out. This is a treasure trove if you are looking to build a low-cost (or free) virtual lab experience for your online students.
There are currently 5,805 simulations. You can filter by discipline, material type, and audience. You can also search specifically for items labeled as Creative Commons.
If you perform a search for Science and Technology Simulations for Lower College Division that are listed as Creative Commons you will find 148 results to choose from. That should keep you (and your students) busy for a while :).
And no, you will not find any of this Merlot :).
4. Genetic Science Learning Center Virtual Labs:
[Anatomy & Physiology, Genetics, Microbiology, Nutrition, Biology, and Environmental Science]
Bonus Tip: Learn.Genetics also has a hands-on DNA extraction lab that I use in several of my online courses so my students can learn about the “Stringy Stuff.”
5. Online Dissection Collections:
I covered how I create dissection alternatives in Part 1, but there are a lot more options out there. Here are some of the best places to start your search:
[Anatomy & Physiology and Biology]
- The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) Bio-LEAP dissection alternatives
- The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Alternatives to Dissection page
- The Science Bank Online Dissection Resources page from Animalearn
Another alternative is to use the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Gross Anatomy Dissection Video Library.
These resources are also very valuable for your onsite classes as well. They allow you to have an option for students that miss a dissection lab or choose not to participate for ethical or religious reasons.
Here is a screenshot from the Virtual Fetal Pig Dissection that I use from Whitman College:
6. NMSU Virtual Microbiology Labs:
“These Virtual Labs help students learn basic laboratory techniques and practice methods used by lab technicians and researchers in a variety of careers, using specific food science lab processes.”
[Microbiology, Biotechnology, Agricultural Science, and Laboratory Techniques]
Click Here to check out NMSU Virtual Labs.
7. Virtual Microscope and Histology Labs:
[Anatomy & Physiology and Biology]
These are the best virtual microscopy and histology resources that I have found:
- University of Deleware Virtual Microscope
- University of Washington Virtual Microscope
- Atlas of Human Histology Virtual Histology Laboratory
- University of Michigan Histology and Virtual Microscopy Lab
Check out the 11-part microscopy tutorial I created for my online students:
8. MSU Virtual Interactive Bacteriology Laboratory:
“A set of virtual, interactive bacteriology labs have been developed to allow the student to learn a variety of tests that are done in a diagnostic microbiology laboratory to identify bacterial pathogens from patient samples. Each module demonstrates a different laboratory test, and the student is able to carry out and interpret the results of each test with controls and unknowns. Instructions are provided within each online module.”
[Microbiology, Biotechnology, and Laboratory Techniques]
Click Here to check out MSU Virtual Interactive Bacteriology Labs
9. The American Association of Chemistry Teachers Chemistry Simulations:
“The American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) is a professional community by and for K–12 teachers of chemistry.”
[Chemistry and Biochemistry]
10. ChemCollective Virtual Labs:
“The Virtual Lab is an online simulation of a chemistry lab. It is designed to help students link chemical computations with authentic laboratory chemistry. The lab allows students to select from hundreds of standard reagents (aqueous) and manipulate them in a manner resembling a real lab.”
[Chemistry and Biochemistry]
Click Here to check out ChemCollective Virtual Labs.
11. McGraw Hill Virtual Labs:
“As every teacher knows, hands-on experience is far and away the most effective way to learn anything. To teach art, let a student paint; to teach driving, let a student drive a car; to teach science, let a student do an experiment. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much science can be taught hands-on in a classroom. Thus, it is with genuine excitement that teachers and students greet the new interactive technologies now coming on-line in today’s classrooms.”
[Biology, Nutrition, Genetics, Environmental Science, and Biochemistry]
Click Here to check out McGraw Hills Virtual Labs.
12. Pearson Lab Bench:
“The material will extend your knowledge beyond your classwork or textbook reading. At the end of each activity, you can assess your progress through a Self-Quiz.”
[Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy & Physiology, and Genetics]
Click Here to check out Pearson Lab Bench.
13. Glencoe Virtual Labs:
“Many of these labs allow students to test multiple variables. Caution: the journal and data entry sections of the simulations do not work, so you probably will want to arrange for students to write these on their own pages. Many of these labs are useful to substitute for activities in the class that are too costly, dangerous, or time-consuming.”
[Biology, Chemistry, and Physics]
Click Here to check out Glencoe Virtual Labs.
14. The Concord Consortium Molecular Workbench:
“The Molecular Workbench is a free, opensource software package for creating and delivering interactive scientific simulations and learning modules based on these simulations. Students can experiment with atomic-scale systems to understand a wide variety of concepts such as the kinetic molecular theory, gas laws, diffusion, heat transfer, phase change, chemical reactions, fluid mechanics, material properties, structure-function relationships, genetic code, protein synthesis, light-matter interactions, quantum phenomena, and much more.”
[Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Biotechnology]
Click Here to check out The Molecular Workbench.
15. Rice University Web Adventures:
“Web Adventures is a web site with a collection of games in which you may explore science and health-related subjects, including forensic science, microbiology, neuroscience, and body systems.”
[Microbiology, Epidemiology, Biotechnology, and Biology]
Click Here to check out Web Adventures.
16. American Chemical Society (ACS) Collection:
“Chemistry moves from the lab and the classroom to the computer, as working in a virtual chemistry laboratory and viewing simulations provide additional ways of learning chemistry.”
[Chemistry and Biochemistry]
Click here to check it out. This is a robust collection of resources for the high school and undergraduate chemistry lab. Think of it is as a collection of collections. There is also a list of articles and reviews with best practices for using the simulations.
Many of the sites in this collection have been talked about throughout this article. ChemReax acid-base titrations is one of my favorite resources from this site.
17. Nobel Prize Educational Games:
“You don’t have to be a genius to understand the work of the Nobel Laureates. These educational games and animated interactives, based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements, will teach and inspire you while you’re having fun!”
[Anatomy & Physiology, Psychology, Microbiology, Biotechnology, and Biology]
Watch this short video about the Blood Typing Activity to see for yourself:
18. Case It!
“Case It is a project providing a framework for collaborative case-based learning via free, open-ended molecular biology simulations and cases based primarily on genetic and infectious disease.”
[Biology, Biotechnology, Genetics]
Students can investigate blood samples from a crime scene and figure out who the murderer is based on DNA evidence.
Click Here to check out Case It!
19. FoldIt Protein Folding Activity:
Foldit is a revolutionary crowdsourcing computer game enabling you to contribute to important scientific research. Solve puzzles for science.
[Biology and Biochemistry]
Click Here to check out FoldIt.
20. Nova Labs RNA Virtual Lab:
“Nature’s best-kept secret is a wonder molecule called RNA. It is central to the origin of life, evolution, and the cellular machinery that keeps us alive. In this Lab, you’ll play the role of a molecular engineer by solving RNA folding puzzles. Then take your skills to Eterna, where you can design RNAs that could be at the heart of future life-saving therapies.”
[Biology, Biochemistry, and Genetics]
Click Here to check out the Nova RNA Virtual Lab.
21. Your Turn!
[You tell me]
I have spent years looking for great resources for my online science labs. But, the internet is a big place. What great resources have you found for your virtual labs that I have missed? Feel free to comment below, email me, or reach out on social media, and I will add your resource to the list.
20 Hands-On Kitchen Science Lab Activities:
Note: This is far from an exhaustive list. There isn’t a “one-stop shop” for hands-on kitchen science labs unless you count Pinterest. I have included a few of my favorite examples here, but you will need to find (or create) labs that make the most sense for you and your online courses.
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science:
“In our 25+ years of working with the method (case studies), we have found it to be a powerful pedagogical technique for teaching science. Cases can be used not only to teach scientific concepts and content, but also process skills and critical thinking. And since many of the best cases are based on contemporary, and often contentious, science problems that students encounter in the news, the use of cases in the classroom makes science relevant.”
Click Here to check out their collection of over 800 case studies.
Build A Lab Kit that Students Can Purchase:
If you are struggling with the lack of physical lab activities in most online virtual labs, and don’t like the high cost of complete lab kits, you can always pair a small lab kit with your virtual lab experience to take things up a notch.
It is possible to create a lab kit that your students purchase from the bookstore, but flexibility is the name of the game in online education. Most students prefer it when I send them the links instead so they can purchase these supplies directly from Amazon and have them shipped to their home.
Here are the top 5 examples of some of the supplies that I have used when building lab kits for my online students. My goal is to try to keep the cost of a lab kit like this under $50.00, so I have had to get a bit creative at times.
(NOTE: All of the links in this section will take you to Amazon. These are not affiliate links. I am just trying to make these products easy to find if you want to try them out for yourself)
1. Petri Dish Kit for Online Microbiology labs:
I use this kit designed for science fair projects with some of my online microbiology students. They can complete the ubiquity of bacteria lab, assess the effectiveness of hand washing, perform a catalase test, and compare the effectiveness of household disinfectants from the comfort of their kitchen.
2. Human Skeleton Model for Online Anatomy and Physiology Labs:
I have used multiple anatomy models with my online students. This is the best one that I have found that doesn’t break the bank. I use this model for bone identification and basic joint movements.
3. Human Skull Model for Online Anatomy and Physiology Labs:
We are currently using 3D printers to print human skull models at one of the schools where I teach. This model is less expensive and way less time-consuming. I use this model for skull bone and suture identification.
4. DNA Double Helix Model for Online Biology Labs:
This is the same DNA model that I use in my onsite biology labs. And here is an even more reasonably priced model if students want one for home use. Personally, I think that the DNA replication simulation from Learn.Genetics works even better than a physical model. The simulations will also allow you to transcribe and translate the proteins as well. But, the simulation doesn’t look near as cool sitting on your bookshelf.
5. Molecular Model Kit for Online Chemistry Labs:
I do not teach online chemistry courses, but I have purchased this molecular model kit to use with my kiddos. Yes, we are all science nerds and proud of it :).
Bonus Tip: Consider creating a lab kit where students can purchase the low-cost materials while borrowing the more expensive equipment. Students could pay a deposit to “check out” items like microscopes, incubators, and electronic scales.
This list is far from exhaustive. I hope that it has gotten your creative juices flowing. What virtual lab supplies would benefit your students? As a bonus, you could always put together a list of recommended supplies for students that would help them learn even though they are not required.
4 Best All-in-One (Paid) Virtual Simulation Solutions:
“Labster gives students access to a realistic lab experience that will let them perform experiments and practice their skills in a fun and risk-free learning environment.”
Watch this video to learn what Labster can offer:
2. Late Nite Labs:
“Our legacy of excellence in education informs our approach to developing world-class content with pioneering and interactive teaching tools. Through deep partnership with the world’s best researchers, educators, administrators, and developers, we facilitate teaching and learning opportunities that spark student engagement and improve outcomes. We provide educators with tailored solutions designed to inspire student curiosity and measure progress. Our commitment to teaching and discovery upholds our mission to improve lives through learning. We do more so you can achieve more.”
Click Here to check out Late Nite Labs.
3. McGraw Hill LearnSmart Labs:
“LearnSmart Labs activities that provide a highly realistic and adaptive simulated lab experience that allows students to “do and think” like a scientist via exploration and execution of the scientific method.”
Click Here to check out LearnSmart Labs.
“SimBio produces software that uses sophisticated interactive simulations to teach biology in an inquiry-driven learning style. We also conduct grant-funded research to understand how to make educational software more effective. Our products allow students to conduct simulated experiments similar to those performed by practicing scientists, in fields of biology where live experiments are impractical or impossible.”
Click Here to check out SimBio.
2 Complete Hands-on Lab Kit Options:
If your students can’t come to the lab, you can send the lab to your students. Another way to incorporate authentic lab experiences into an online course is to work with companies that will ship science kits to your online students. Here are two options:
1. eScience Labs:
“eScience Labs collaborates with hundreds of higher education institutions to provide a traditional hands-on laboratory experience to students engaged in online and blended learning.
Through a combination of hands-on science lab kits, virtual learning tools, and customized digital curriculum, eScience Labs helps higher education institutions expand and strengthen science comprehension.”
I have used eScience lab kits for both online microbiology and anatomy courses. They are of high quality, and the students enjoy them. Students also appreciate the quality of their customer service. The only downside is the $200-250 price tag.
Check out this short video from the eScience channel on Vimeo to learn more:
2. Carolina Distance Learning® lab kits:
“Carolina Distance Learning® lab kits are designed specifically for college-level distance education. They provide the same rigor, relevance, and results that traditional labs provide, giving your online students a successful lab experience wherever they are.”
I have never used these lab kits, but I have seen them at conferences. They seem to be very equivalent to the eScience products. Watch this overview video for more information.
The options discussed in this article show that you can make science labs (or a suitable alternative) available to your online students. You can develop experiments that students can perform at home, incorporate online simulations, provide video demonstrations, focus on theoretical applications, or design and send complete lab kits to students. All of these options can help students meet course objectives more successfully and make practical, real-world connections to the material they are learning.
Now I need your help. What should I add to this list?