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Increasing Student Engagement in Online Education with Virtual Field and Lab Experiences
  • Nate Wildes
Nate Wildes
University of California Riverside

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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In online education, student-to-student interaction can be an important component to encouraging independent thinking and achieving learning objectives. The course development team for “Minerals and Human Health” will share experiences in designing and implementing a virtual laboratory and collaborative projects for this online course. The first of its kind to be offered fully online, “Minerals and Human Health” encompasses the study of interactions between people and earth’s mineral resources, and how these interactions are influenced by a variety of natural, human health-related, economic, cultural and political factors. The virtual laboratory takes students on a virtual field trip to abandoned gold mines in the Mojave Desert, where students are able to observe images of samples provided from an electron microscope that the development team extracted for analysis. Using advanced recording techniques, stabilized body cameras, aerial drone footage, macro videography and wireless microphones, the team created a simulated field geologist experience, including footage of having narrowly escaped a massive desert dust storm. The virtual laboratory continues with a sequence of interactive videos where students are introduced to surveying and extraction from the field, lab equipment, and methods for analyzing and identifying mineral particles in dust samples. After learning principle concepts, students prepare an home-project called “The Air we Breathe”. In this collaborative project, students interact with each other via online discussion forums and video conferencing in order to collect dust particles for lab analysis. Students deliver the samples for study under optical and electron microscopes to the instructor, who distributes the results back to the students. Students then present their interpretation of the findings. Students are astonished to discover the air that they breathe every day includes hazards such as PM0.5-0.2 that are classified as carcinogenic materials. Initial student feedback has been collected throughout this newly developed course to identify areas that were most impactful and that could be improved for future iterations. Join us as we share our lessons learned while creating this extraordinary online learning experience.