Groundbreaking hybrid biology course

PASADENA, TX These hybrid biology courses have been successfully offered for two semesters now at San Jacinto College North, and are being taught by biology professor Dr. Kelly Mizell.

The hybrid courses were in use last fall and this spring in Mizell's biology classes and the full virtual labs are scheduled to be available for students to use as study aids in the fall of 2008. At the same time, a library of biology and histology images will be available online. The library is being created as a collaborative effort by Dr. Larry Rohde, a professor of histology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, for use in these hybrid courses.

Funding for the project was awarded by the National Science Foundation, an independent U.S. government agency that promotes science and engineering through research programs and educational projects.

Colleges collaborating with San Jacinto College in the project include UHCL, Texas Southern University (TSU), the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, and the San Jacinto College Aerospace and Biotechnology Academy.

The Partnership for Innovation in Biotechnology and Life Sciences (PIBLS) will use the courses created by Dr. Mizell, along with 20 other virtual labs in histology, genomics, and microbiology, as the basis for online biotechnology content.

In 2009 and 2010, the course material will be shared with middle and high school teachers in the Galveston Bay Area through workshops developed by individuals from all four institutions.

"These virtual components of the hybrid courses greatly enhance the understanding that future graduating high school students will have of biotechnology," commented Jon Willard, manager of the grant that funds the project. "For example, you cannot really understand how a disease will affect the human body until you recognize what a healthy human cell looks like versus what the affected cell looks like when a disease attacks. These virtual biology courses allow students to have a wider knowledge base because of the vast resources available online, including the online library of biology and histology images."

Hybrid courses are a blend of face-to-face classes with distance learning in which some learning activities take place through online correspondence via the Internet. Virtual labs enable students to remotely perform many aspects of science experiments online.

Implementing the hybrid biology course project furthers San Jacinto College's goal of making the complete core curriculum available to students at a distance, thus providing students an opportunity to earn college credits through hybrid and distance learning classes. In the current hybrid biology course, 51 percent of the course involves face-to-face instruction and 49 percent involves remote, online instruction.

Mizell is particularly excited about the virtual labs that are part of the innovative project. "A traditional biology lab allows students to conduct hands-on experiments," Mizell remarked. "However, a traditional classroom lab must be completed during the assigned course schedule and usually cannot be repeated or reviewed due to time constraints. A virtual lab will allow students to conduct lab simulations as many times as they need to and at their own pace."

The virtual labs allow students to explore a wide array of topics, such as microscope techniques, identifying cells and structures, DNA and gene expression, genetic inheritance, evolution, plants, human systems and ecology.

"Some of these labs will be linked to the labs being developed by UHCL and TSU for more advanced students," Mizell said.

Following the lead of the groundbreaking hybrid biology project, other online and distance learning hybrid science courses are being developed by science professors at San Jacinto College, such as microbiology, anatomy, and physiology.

"Within a couple of years, I anticipate students being able to develop the 'lab experience' needed for a full understanding of subjects completely online in biology, anatomy, physiology, genetics, and microbiology, without taking a traditional lab course," Willard noted.

For more information about distance learning at San Jacinto College, visit, or call 281-998-6150.

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