Community colleges to help students conduct lab science from their couches

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(Photo: Dan Branan)
<p><span style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: normal;">The experiment “cockpit”: From their laptop screens, students at Colorado community colleges will be able to control a microscope and view what is on the slides. </span></p>

Photo: The online science dashboardIn a new take on science education, lab science is going virtual.

Students taking biology, chemistry and physics at community colleges in Colorado will be able to take their lab classes online, starting in the new year. Sitting in front of their computers, with a couple of mouse clicks, students will be able to place real slides under actual microscopes.

It's the project of Dan Branan, remote lab director for the Colorado Community College System and one of the project's founders. The microscopes sit in a lab in Arvada. Branan told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner that, with a couple of mouse clicks, students could use the remote equipment to examine very real and particularly nasty strains of bacteria—without any risk of infection. Colorado is among the pioneers in online lab experimentation. Branan believes virtual labs could transform science education.

Branan -- admittedly an advocate -- says online science labs offer several advantages, not least of which is the ability to "handle" contagious germs without any danger. He also cites convenience and the ability for students living in remote areas to perform lab science in ways previously unavailable to them. And, he says, more and more lab science is being performed by virtual teams, and performing experiments online with remote partners will help students prepare for their future careers.

But not all physical experiments are yet suited to online labs. It's possible to dissect a frog online, Branan says -- but it's not ideal.

For more information on the project, click here.