Broadening participation in the digital age: Designing online geoscience labs to engage community college programs

Wednesday 11:15-11:45am PT / 12:15-12:45pm MT / 1:15-1:45pm CT / 2:15-2:45pm ET Online


Joshua Zimmt, University of California-Berkeley
Lisa White, University of California-Berkeley
Larry Taylor, University of California-Berkeley

Advancing Community College Education and Student Success (ACCESS) is a collaborative partnership between the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) and local community colleges. In typical years, the program features specimen-based lab courses utilizing fossils from the UCMP collections. However, the COVID-19 pandemic created unique obstacles for the program, our partners, and our ability to accommodate a diverse body of students with differing needs. To meet the needs of our partner institutions during the pandemic, we shifted our focus to the development of online paleobiology and geoscience experiences to provide an alternative to the in-person ACCESS labs.

The adaptation of the ACCESS labs to a digital format allowed us to utilize a wider range of resources including three-dimensional models of fossils (many of which would not be available in an in-person ACCESS lesson), online databases, and virtual interactives. Incorporating these resources into the online ACCESS labs allowed us to develop a new suite of lessons in collaboration with our partners. The inclusion of databases (e.g., Paleobiology Database) and interactive tools (e.g., UCMP Understanding Global Change) in these online labs allowed us to place a greater emphasis upon scientific inquiry, data collection, and hypothesis testing by focusing on phenomena throughout Earth history.

Student and instructor responses to the online labs have been overwhelmingly positive.
Online ACCESS labs enable us to provide lessons in synchronous and asynchronous formats; synchronous lessons via partner-hosted video conferencing allow students to interact with UCMP instructors. In addition, the online format removes physical and monetary (i.e., specimens, transport costs) barriers to engagement with our partners. This has enabled us to expand ACCESS labs to community colleges across the country. As we continue to develop the ACCESS program, our goal is to develop a sustainable program model that can be replicated regardless of institutional constraints.