Teaching & Learning Resource Center

Keep Teaching: Virtual Labs

Online Labs Overview

Online labs come with certain constraints, including a lack of physical hands-on activities and a lack of ability to reflect on authentic laboratory errors in a physical space. However, there are several opportunities associated with online labs:

  • Authentic models via simulation programs or software through which students can easily manipulate variables, such as time

  • Experiments on unobservable phenomena, such as chemical reactions, thermodynamics, and electricity; remove confusing details; and highlight connections between unobservable and observable processes, such as long-term climate systems

  • Less set-up time and instantaneous results

  • Fewer distractions due to issues with lab equipment

Design Considerations

As you move from considering how to postpone lab activities, keep in mind that while you likely won't be able to do the lab in the exact same way, you can still achieve your core learning outcomes.

Consider the following:

  • Activities involving designing experiments, analyzing data, communicating results, and working with groups can be done outside of the lab space.

  • While introductory labs may focus on experimental work, higher-level labs may focus on data analysis and interpretation over experimental work.

  • Use some combination of simulations, lab kits, home outdoor activities, and pre-existing data sets to encourage scientific inquiry.

    • NOTE: Lab kits may be hard to find due to bulk ordering and costs may be prohibitive.

Some instructors have found that at-home labs can be more engaging than in-person labs because in some lab groups one or two people might dominate the experience.


WCET's Teaching College Science Classes When Resources are Limited; Recorded on March 20, 2020.

Online with LSE: Transitioning to online instruction; Recorded on March 20, 2020.

Tools for transitioning lab activities or assignments

Existing Ohio State Tools

What can these tools do?

Interactive scenarios using CarmenCanvas pages

You can link CarmenCanvas pages together via hyperlinks to walk students through scenarios or simulations in which details about those scenarios can change.

A scenario could start with a prompt page and have students proceed through a few pages with embedded images, videos, external simulators that lead to either:

  • Static pages with questions that students should consider and respond to via word docs, or
  • Carmen Quizzes or Assignments in which students demonstrate their understanding of the scenario or simulation

View an example online simulation using interactive Carmen pages. This resource provides downloadable Carmen pages that you can adapt for your own course. View the examples and download content by visiting http://go.osu.edu/KTlabs

CarmenCanvas Quizzes

The quiz tool is a robust tool that allows the embedding of images and videos.

Consider using the One Question at a Time option to reveal information in chunks, in conjunction with the question type Text (no question) to embed images, videos, or links to videos or simulations.

For more information, see Build an Online Lab with Carmen Quizzes.

CarmenCanvas Assignments and Discussions

You can embed images, videos, or links in both Carmen Assignments and Discussions.

  • If it makes sense to provide a general prompt with embedded items and students should work individually, use the Assignment option.
  • If it makes sense for students to collaborate on general prompts with embedded items and respond to one another, use the Discussion option.

 Office 365

 Office365 to upload a shared Excel file for your students to review and analyze existing datasets, either published from the literature, newly created, or from last year's classes.

Microsoft One Note

Microsoft OneNote can be used as a digital laboratory notebook space. Students can insert images, links, and equations. Students can also share their notebooks with one another for group lab assignments and with the instructor. 

Watch Microsoft's overview to OneNote.

NOTE: This software is a part of Office365 and is not available to employees of Wexner Medical Center.

Microsoft Teams Microsoft Teams can be used as a collaborative space where students can create channels to communicate in real-time and share files with one another. 

Watch Microsoft'soverview to Teams

NOTE: This software is a part of Office365 and is not available to employees of Wexner Medical Center.