Something that students and prospective students often wonder about with regard to distance learning programs is science courses, particularly those that involve labs. In fact, it’s one of the most common course-related questions we get asked: “Can you take a science lab online?”

The answer is yes, you definitely can, and many of our students do just that every semester. Penn State World Campus has numerous courses in science areas — including physics, chemistry, and a range of engineering disciplines — that have a lab component.

How do online science labs work?

Not surprisingly, online science courses rely on a variety of tech-based tools and platforms to make it possible for students to perform lab activities. These include:

Portable or wireless lab tools with online content. This could include equipment such as the IOlab Version 2.0-Kit (used for some physics courses), which has electronic sensors to help students conduct experiments and take readings and is designed to be used with accompanying software.

Video-conferencing platforms. Students may use video-conferencing programs to perform demonstrations (either live or recorded) of their lab experiments, which are then shared with the class for the peer-review process.

Discussion boards. Students engage in conversations about lab experiments, reading assignments, and other topics via online discussion boards. Participation in these discussions is usually a mandatory part of the course and is factored into the student’s overall course grade.

Exam proctoring. Penn State uses online exam proctoring to ensure the academic integrity of the testing process for numerous courses, including some science courses. Exam proctoring services are provided by Examity, and students request an online proctor using an easy web dashboard.

Instructors also often use video platforms such as YouTube or Zoom to demonstrate science techniques or walk students through the steps involved in tests and experiments.

The same academic standards

The setting and delivery methods may be different, but students taking online science courses at Penn State World Campus study the same material, taught by the same instructors, as students at any other Penn State campus. The courses have the same high academic standards you expect from Penn State, but with the convenience and flexibility that busy adult learners need.

Our faculty and course designers work together to ensure that students get the full experience from all of their courses, including science courses with a lab component, in a way that is as convenient and user-friendly as possible. We also have a range of support services available to students who may need assistance with any of their courses.