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Foundations for True Biology Online Labs at MOOC Scale

School of Engineering

Although the learning benefits of lab experimentation are well documented, integration of true experimental lab components into online education is an unsolved challenge, especially at MOOC scale; even for traditional face-­to-­face education many limitations exist. We have developed a real­‐time cloud­‐based experimentation system that enables direct and versatile online interaction with live microorganisms; this system promises cost-­effective scaling up to 10,000 users.

Here we propose to develop various educational biology content units on this system, to perform affordance studies with individual students, to investigate the system’s advantages and disadvantages compared to virtual and traditional laboratory experiments, to use learning analytics to evaluate user activity, and to build three more units to evaluate parallelization and scaling issues. Our results will enable us(and others) to integrate real biological experimentation into Stanford classes and MOOCs and to embrace a new educational paradigm that utilizes versatile high­‐throughput life-­science equipment to make biological experimentation a standard feature of online education.

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