Tim Loomer, CEO
Science is deeply interwoven with our daily and future lives. From flying on an airplane to talking on a mobile phone to taking medicines for a sore throat, it is the magical touch of science in disguise everywhere. While scientific innovations continue to push the frontiers of possibility, science educators constantly strive to better equip students for tomorrow through well-designed curriculums and engaging laboratory experiences, which are imperative to ensure mastery of the subject.
But, when COVID-19 struck last year, those teaching theoretical subjects quickly jumped on the online bandwagon to reach out to students no matter where they were. But for scores of science instructors, the question looming large was: how to transition online as the course requires lab components?
It was this compelling question that Science Interactive set out to answer almost two decades back. “In a nutshell, we enable science instructors to deliver their science laboratory curriculum online,” says Caitlin Runne, chief academic officer at Science Interactive. Science Interactive represents a combination of two historic brands—Hands-On Labs and eScience Labs—that brings to the fore the best of both brands.
Science instructors found it tough to shift to online even prior to the pandemic, which only exacerbated it. However, even with normalcy returning, recent studies suggest that 73 percent of all college students prefer online courses. Moreover, remote learners being the largest growing segment of the higher education population, require the convenience of online courses to advance their education.
As the demand for effective online science labs surges, many challenges abound—the logistics of delivering kits to student’s homes, performing experiments safely in a home environment, preventing breach of academic integrity in an unsupervised environment, and most importantly, retaining the tactile elements of a physical campus laboratory.
As a trusted distance-learning partner, Science Interactive has deftly tackled all the roadblocks to take the online lab experience to the next level for instructors and students globally.
The Differentiating Edge
“What differentiates us from other lab kit companies in the market is that we focus on providing a comprehensive and engaging digital curriculum that is in line with the best practices in instructional design, as well as a hands-on or digital laboratory experience,” explains Caitlin. The rigorous, engaging content specifically designed to increase learner engagement and learner success is delivered through an intuitive ADA-compliant learning platform—the Science Interactive Cloud (SI Cloud).
The content is paired with state-of-the-art lab kits that are shipped to student’s homes. The advanced at-home lab kits contain everything from beakers and microscale chemicals for chemistry, rocks and minerals for geology and skeletal system, and prepared tissue slices for anatomy and physiology, among others. Students get the relevant kits needed to complete their experiments.
As innovators in the field of science distance learning, Science Interactive offers hundreds of lessons and more than 400 experiments across 10 science disciplines, which are used by over 650 colleges and universities worldwide. These cover non-major’s introductory physics, chemistry and biology courses, including upper-level courses such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology, organic chemistry, GOB chemistry, as well as environmental science, geology, and more unique studies like forensics.
The company outlines a rigorous content creation process for each of their lessons and experiments.
In a nutshell, we enable science instructors to deliver their science laboratory curriculum online
“We start off with faculty involvement from the very beginning and bring in our users to ensure that we are hitting all the benchmarks that our clients want to see,” says Caitlin. The curriculum is developed internally by PhD scientists with teaching experience and undergoes several peer reviews to meet the highest quality standards. Alongside, an instructional design team works to include interactive videos and animations in the curriculum to engage students and render a more immersive learning experience. “The courses are developed using the powerful Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and comply with WCG 2.0 standards, so that we can reach all learners on campus, regardless of their level of ability,” says Tim Loomer, CEO of Science Interactive.
Safety and Academic Integrity Guaranteed
Circling back to the safety aspect, Science Interactive allays any apprehensions that faculty members may have in terms of students performing the experiments safely and safeguarding academic integrity in an online environment. To uphold student safety, the lab kits come with a comprehensive safety overview with instructions that students have to adhere to ensure the safe conduct of experiments from the confines of their homes. Moreover, the kits contain only microscale quantities of chemicals that are safe for disposal at home. And that’s not all; students have to sign a safety contract before they start doing experiments with the kits. To prevent academic integrity issues, SI Cloud is intelligently designed to prevent students from copying answers from other sources.
An All-Encompassing Solution
The Science Interactive team also recognizes that every institution is unique and provides instructors with several options to resolve their unique challenges. “We are the only provider to offer a choice between robust tactile and virtual experiments offering a hybrid selection of both methodologies in a single course,” says Caitlin. “This allows flexibility for our customers in terms of budget while offering varied experiences to students.”
But what sets them a notch higher is the versatility offered to their clients and faculty members in terms of creating a customized course they envision as opposed to being limited by a set of predesigned courses. “At the end of the day, although we write the curriculum, it is their course and they know what best fits their students,” points out Caitlin.
Evidently, even those instructors who were skeptical at the beginning of a switchover to an online environment can now rest assured that Science Interactive has everything covered.
From the repertoire of numerous success stories, Caitlin recalls her favorite. Ocean County College in New Jersey had moved its lecture component online but was hesitant to move the laboratory courses. When Science Interactive stepped into the picture, the powerful collaboration enabled Ocean County College to have a very successful first semester for their anatomy and physiology program online, which eventually gave them the confidence to bring more science disciplines online. Furthermore, they were able to reach a whole new group of students that they hadn’t anticipated before.
Science Interactive’s online lab courses have proved extremely beneficial for a sizeable population of remote learners who, due to childcare and travel barriers, cannot travel to campus for three or four-hour lab sessions. “We strive to provide the best possible science education to students who are unable to be in a traditional laboratory setting,” says Loomer.
For the road ahead, the Science Interactive team aims to enhance the current curriculum and align with proven online learning pedagogies and also expand into advanced courses, which may require shipping of specialized equipment and harsher chemicals. Plans are in the works to cater to high school students, especially A&P students and expand further into these markets either through in-house capabilities or through acquisitions.
With many innovative ideas and offerings in the pipeline, Science Interactive continues to be on the pioneering edge.