Students who take college lab science courses online do just as well in school as students who take the same courses in a traditional classroom setting, according to a study recently released by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The study was the topic of an Oct. 18 posting by Rhonda M. Epper, assistant provost of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), about which the study was conducted.
The study examined students in the CCCS, who have the option of taking lab science courses online, in a physical classroom, or as a hybrid course, and compared the students’ grades in community college, and then their progress at four-year universities later on. The more than 4,500 students in the study took introductory biology, chemistry, and physics courses.
Students in the online science courses had higher cumulative grade point averages (GPAs) than students who did not take courses online—2.95 compared to 2.87, out of 4.0. Students in online courses had slightly lower science GPAs than classroom-based students—2.71 compared to 2.83.
Overall numbers were found to be statistically insignificant in general, but varied by course. For biology students, cumulative GPAs were found to be similar, but in-classroom students have statistically significant higher grades in those classes than students in online classes. Online chemistry students had higher cumulative GPAs, but lower grades in the courses than in-classroom students. Physics students were found to have statistically similar cumulative GPAs and physics grades regardless of course format.
When the students enrolled in four-year Colorado institutions, there was found to be no statistical difference in performance in science courses later on, suggesting that online CCCS students did just as well in four-year college science courses as their on-campus counterparts. There was found to be no statistical difference in biology, chemistry, and physics GPAs across the formats.
When discussing the study, CCCS assistant provost Epper said the system has offered online lab science courses since 2001. Students are mailed kits and lab equipment with all the same tools in-class students use, though perhaps not as large or with a slight difference in capability. The kits are assembled based on the instruction of professors, and come with lab manuals.
Epper said the CCCS is a lead partner in the North American Network of Science Labs Online, which allows online science students to use their lab equipment to collect and analyze data working together with lab partners in real time.
Follow Anna Schumann on Twitter at @ASchumannCMN.