Science fields like engineering require plenty of hands-on learning, so you might wonder how online engineering students will fulfill laboratory course requirements. Lab work for online science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs has historically been an obstacle, according to The New York Times. Fortunately, as online degree programs have become more prevalent, colleges have devised a few solutions to this problem. Some schools offer virtual labs, others require lab work completed at home and still others make on-campus labs mandatory.
Virtual Laboratory Experiences in Online Courses
In virtual lab courses, online engineering students will fulfill laboratory course requirements using only their computers. Some virtual labs are simulations of how students would conduct experiments and gather data in the real world. Others allow online students remote access to computerized equipment like telescopes and microscopes.
Performing Lab Work at Home
In some programs, online engineering students fulfill laboratory course requirements through in-person lab work conducted in their own home. The school may make a lab kit part of the required course materials. Students purchase such a kit just like they purchase textbooks and then use the components to conduct the lab work assigned by instructors.
Other online lab courses come up with experiments that use readily available household products. Students receive a list of ingredients they will need at the start of the semester and can purchase those ingredients from places like hardware stores and grocery stores.
The benefits of at-home labs are that online students who need flexibility can still complete their work when and where it’s convenient for them, and they get the hands-on learning experience they would receive in the classroom. However, some lab coursework requires more complex – and expensive – equipment that students won’t have at home.
On-Campus Laboratory Requirements for Online Students
Another way online engineering students fulfill laboratory course requirements is by making a trek to campus. For example, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, students pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering must squeeze three on-campus laboratory requirements into their education. The good news is that the school is flexible, allowing students to complete this requirement at whichever of the three Alabama locations is most convenient for them. Similarly, the University of North Carolina’s online bachelor’s in electrical engineering technology program requires on-campus summer lab experiences.
Each method of fulfilling lab requirements has its benefits and its drawbacks. Online simulations are convenient, but you don’t get the hands-on experience. On-campus labs, while great for learning, can be a burden for online students who live far away or have scheduling conflicts. Lab kits for home lab work can’t provide the extensive equipment needed for complex lab tests.
If you’re considering starting an online engineering program, it’s important for you to find out how online engineering students fulfill laboratory course requirements so you can plan for at-home lab work or on-campus requirements if necessary.