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Oregon State wins national award for online biology lab

Innovative 3D microscope earns top honor for ‘creative use of technology’

By Tyler Hansen
Nov. 1, 2016

A screenshot of the 3D microscope designed by Ecampus multimedia developers and faculty members.

A screenshot of the 3D microscope designed by Oregon State University Ecampus multimedia developers in collaboration with OSU faculty members Dr. Andrew Bouwma and Dr. Genevieve Weber.

After six months of research and development and a yearlong 3D animation project, Oregon State University last year launched a series of three biology courses online that effectively puts a microscope in the hands of every distance student.

Those prolonged efforts have resulted in national recognition for the university. In October, Eduventures gave Oregon State a national innovation award for the development of its groundbreaking online biology lab series. The academic breakthrough is the result of a partnership between OSU’s Department of Integrative Biology, the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, and Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s online education division.

The award was given for creative use of technology to boost student success. The online labs eliminated a significant barrier to degree completion for place-bound Ecampus adult learners in non-medical science fields.

The comprehensive development process was necessary to ensure the labs meet the same learning outcomes as OSU’s on-campus labs.

“We had to create an alternative that gives students the foundational experience of being in a lab where they can maneuver a microscope’s settings and adjust the images just as they would in a face-to-face environment,” said Shannon Riggs, the Ecampus director of course development and training.

To create the virtual lab experience, Ecampus multimedia developers mounted a camera on top of an actual microscope and took pictures of what was on the slides. The photos are woven into 3D animation, which allows students to adjust the lighting, zoom and manipulate the images as they would if they were in a Corvallis laboratory.

The classes, developed by Dr. Andrew Bouwma and Dr. Genevieve Weber, have reached enrollment capacity quickly each term. Bouwma and Weber also received a teaching innovation award from OSU in April 2016. The award from the Division of University Outreach and Engagement is given to those who have pioneered an innovative approach to the design or execution of teaching online.

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