Distance education students experience benefits of lab kits

By University Communications
October 7, 2015
Amara Peterson, Instructional Resources Service student employee, packages lab kits for students taking an online biology course.

Photo: Amara Peterson packages lab kits for an online biology course.

Students who are taking an online biology class at University of Wisconsin-Stout aren’t left out in the cold when it comes to lab experiments.

Since 2013, lab kits have been available through the university’s Instructional Resources Service to students enrolled in Science, the Environment and Sustainability.

Instructor Lynne Krueger developed the curriculum and has been teaching the course for the past two years. In order to include the lab component, Krueger was encouraged by Doug Stevens, director of Customized Instruction and UW-Stout Online, and Bob Butterfield, director of Instructional Resources Service, to design kits that would be sent to the students.

Initially, when some of the glassware broke in transit, Charles Bomar, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, suggested that better packaging could be designed and developed by the packaging department.

“Bomar had the vision of the lab equipment kit becoming a reality through the collaborative work of people right here at home …UW-Stout,” Krueger said.

Robert Meisner, program director of packaging, was contacted and in true UW-Stout fashion presented the problem to his packaging students. The students created simple and effective packaging, and “not a piece of glassware broke during last spring semester’s mailing,” Krueger said.

“For the lab experience having a universal set of equipment is valuable, so that students can do science and have a shared experience,” Bomar said.

Kits, experiments and safety

The kits include specialized equipment necessary for students to complete labs in their homes, such as Bromocresol green, a pH indicator; a digital scale; an Erlenmeyer flask; petri dishes; graduated cylinders; and a beaker, Krueger said.

The experiments, similar to those on campus, enhance the learning of scientific concepts basic to current environmental issues, Krueger said. For example, in one experiment, students make an energy comparison of three fuels and calculate the quantity of energy transferred from the fuels to water.

They then discuss the results of the experiment in relation to environmental issues, such as global climate change and energy sustainability, she said. 

Safety is always considered, and students sign safety agreements with the university at the onset of the semester, Krueger said.

Safety information and practices also are provided with every experiment, including Material Safety Data Sheets for potentially hazardous materials included in the kits. Students are instructed to wear protective eyewear in all experiments, and disposable protective gloves are provided for some experiments.

Feedback and benefits of lab kit program

Student feedback on the kits has been largely positive, Krueger said. Students are curious how experiments will be handled in the home lab, she said. At the end of the term, one student wrote, “I enjoyed this course a lot and was amazed we were able to do these amazing labs at home.”

Joanie Dulin, of Menomonie, is a student in the class. A nontraditional student, Dulin works full time and is pursuing a B.S. degree in management. Because of work and her busy life, she is taking all her classes online.

“I think it will be quite adventurous to go through this process as an online student,” she said.

Krueger listens to her students and works to incorporate their ideas. “Some suggestions requested more labeling and identifying photos of specialized materials,” she said.

Krueger is pleased with the kits and that despite the online nature of the course students are able to do lab experiments with the same equipment that classroom students have.

“When I took on the building of the course, I made a commitment to myself to provide hands-on and outdoors opportunities for my students,” she said.

“We are, after all, building concepts and understandings about the amazing natural world and our responsibilities to the Earth,” Krueger said.

Undergraduate student Amara Peterson, who works in IRS for her Cooperative Education experience, is in charge of the lab kit program. She orders the materials, assembles them and mails them to students.

The lab kit program has numerous benefits, Butterfield said. The Instructional Resources Service purchases the materials at reduced costs. Distance education students have the lab experience; and packaging students have experience designing boxes.

“On average, UW-Stout undergraduates pay only $165.36 per year through segregated fees for course resources. Stout provides a tremendous value compared to the national average of $1,225 per year,” Butterfield said.

The IRS has provided a textbook rental service for more than 120 years. Students pay a segregated fee in their tuition to cover the textbooks.

For more information about distance and online education go to Distance Education or call 715-232-2693.