Northern Virginia Community College's distance chemistry courses use home laboratories, computer exercises, field trips, and college laboratories to improve access and learning experience.
How this practice supports access: Starting in 1994, Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) Professors Reva Savkar and Martha Sellers developed two chemistry courses to be offered through the Extended Learning Institute (ELI), NVCC's distance learning unit. These chemistry courses were originally developed as part of a Sloan Foundation funded project to develop an distance education associate degree program in Engineering. Thus, these courses are designed for science and engineering majors. As with traditional classroom-based courses, these courses have lecture and laboratory components. Since the target audience is locally based, the course laboratories are designed to greatly reduce but not entirely eliminate the need to travel to campus. Course laboratories consist of: computer-based laboratory exercises required completion of a lab safety quiz after viewing a related video selected 'dry labs' (e.g., nomenclature) converted into paper-and-pencil exercises home-based laboratories such as chromatography optional laboratory exercises designed to be completed at the Smithsonian Institution's Science in American History exhibit at the Museum of American History in nearby Washington, DC. in-person labs which require 2-3 visits to NVCC's Annandale campus during the semester or making alternate arrangements with a local chemistry instructor. Over the years, Professor Savkar has modified the mixture and delivery methods of required and optional laboratories based on her experience. The distance course is supported by a series of NVCC-produced videos which are broadcasted on local cable TV and are available for semesterly rental. Class sizes were kept relatively small in these courses, generally ranging from 6 to 24 students.
Student focus groups and evaluation surveys conducted during 1996-1999 indicated that these courses improved access, in many cases providing the only option for rhe students to take these courses. One survey indicated that the courses attracted a number of 'career-changers' and a high percentage (~40%) of students with earned bachelor's degrees or higher. NVCC has successfully offered the first semester of College Chemistry I via distance learning two times per year since the spring 1995 semester, and College Chemistry II once per year since the Fall 1997 semester. A study done in 1999 indicated comparable starter success rates between distance and on-campus students in both courses during the aggregated period 1995-1999 (Sener and Stover 2000; see complete citation in Reference section below), including same instructor/same semester comparisons. ELI student satisfaction data has consistently indicated high levels of satisfaction with both chemistry courses throughout this time period.
Original course development costs were around $16K/course, of which over half of that cost was for video production. Ongoing costs are relatively low for course delivery and for students.
Sener, J. and Stover, M., "Integrating ALN into an Independent Study Distance Education Program: NVCC Case Studies." On-line Education: Learning Effectiveness and Faculty Satisfaction -- Proceedings of the 1999 Sloan Summer Workshop on Asynchronous Learning Networks
Contrast NVCC's approach with those of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and the University of Colorado-Denver's joint FIPSE funded "Anywhere Anytime Chemistry Experience" project. These and other projects indicate that there are a variety of possible approaches to offer effective laboratory learning experiences for both non-science and science majors.