The Internet has brought the idea of students not getting their hands dirty to a whole new level. There are new Web sites and online courses that allow experiments
traditional to a laboratory to be done without having to wear goggles.
These programs are more popular than some would think, especially in rural areas and poor school districts where the schools do not have laboratories or can’t afford lab equipment.
Advocates of the program say that it is a much safer way for students to learn science. There is no risk of skin exposure to harmful chemicals, no costly blunders and certainly no classroom explosions.
Wait. We thought that was the point of lab lessons. Not that students should blow up their school, but the risk of mixing harmful chemicals is an ever present factor that keeps students on their toes. It forces them to utilize what they’ve learned and to carry out the experiment more cautiously – making all of their decisions more educationally supported.
A student who is mixing fake chemicals online is less likely to be on his toes and use caution. An online explosion would probably make him laugh. This virtual facade is taking the element of consequence out of the lesson – a factor that most likely contributes to a student’s learning.A positive aspect of online lab exercises involves animal dissection. There are always students who do not feel comfortable dissecting a pig fetus, whether it’s due to a queasy stomach or ethical reasons. Now, there is an efficient alternative that won’t result in a dramatic learning disadvantage.
Although the service is new, it is difficult to pass it off as an educational mistake. So far, studies have shown that students enrolled in these virtual courses have been performing well on standardized exams. On the 2005 advanced placement biology exam, 71 percent of students from the Florida Virtual School scored a three and above on a scale of five, as did 80 percent of students from the Virtual High School.
These test scores may indicate a new era in education, where students will abandon the practices of hands-on experiments. And even though students are still learning through this new process, there is still a sense of education through risk and consequence that is lost in the wires.