The benefits of online instruction favor the flexibility of teaching and learning anywhere, anytime. However, online education poses a specific challenge for courses within the hard sciences, such as microbiology, due to the specificity of laboratory equipment utilized and laboratory safety guidelines followed in traditional (in-person) lab courses. As such, traditional experiments may not readily transition to an “at home” environment nor are virtual lab instruction platforms considered “equal” by many hard science departments.
Research suggests that effective online learning results from careful planning and instructional design strategies through a systematic model for design and development (Hodges et al., 2020).
The University of North Alabama (UNA) is primarily a teaching institution focused on student success, academic access, and affordability. It had been working on expanding its online programming in the three years prior to the pandemic through committed funding to support robust online experiences, including funding for Quality Matters (QM) course reviews and stipends for faculty to investigate and adopt Open Education Resources (OER). UNA not only successfully transitioned to the online environment during the pandemic but also experienced record growth in overall enrollment due in part to the support systems available for professors interested in transitioning online prior to the pandemic. This paper explores how the combined efforts of a microbiology professor, OER librarian, and instructional designer created a high-quality, practical, and experiential laboratory learning opportunity for students using an open, online environment in microbiology.