Biology Labs Online
February 19, 2015, 12-1p
Presenter: Bob Desharnais, Ph.D.


Virtual labs provide an environment for students to explore scientific concepts by designing and carrying out their own experiments. They provide a hands-on opportunity for GE students to "achieve an understanding and appreciation of scientific principles and the scientific method" as specified in the CSU General Education Breadth Requirements. They are also less costly and can allow increased number of course offerings to relieve graduation bottlenecks.

General education (GE) laboratory courses are a bottleneck for progress to graduation. At CSULA, a life science course with lab is required of every student. Enrollments in labs are limited to 24 students and each lab must be staffed by an instructor. Labs are taught in specialized facilities which are limited in availability. Many students are unable to register for these courses until their senior year.

GE biology courses are a challenge for non-science majors. Labs are intended to involve students in doing science, but most wet labs are "cook-book" activities. The labs lack engagement and an opportunity for creativity.

Bob Desharnais, Professor of Biology, CSU Los Angeles

Bob Desharnais is a Professor of Biology and Director of the Virtual Courseware Project (, an innovative web site providing free interactive inquirybased simulations for science education. Beginning with the creation of the popular Virtual FlyLab genetics application in 1995, he has been at the cutting edge of webbased technology for science education. He is coauthor of the suite of web simulations called Biology Labs OnLine, which is published by Pearson Edcuation and used by hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation, as well as several other freelyavailable webbased programs. The Virtual Courseware Project was developed and supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

Desharnais received his Ph.D. in Zoology in 1982 from the University of Rhode Island. He was a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and then spent five years as a postdoctoral fellow, research associate, and assistant professor of populations at Rockefeller University. He joined the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences at Cal State LA in Fall 1988 where he has taught courses in biostatistics, ecology, genetics, and general biology. He received the CSULA Outstanding Professor Award in 1998, the Richard Nicholson Award for Excellence in Science Teaching from the Washington DCbased Quality Education for Minorities Network in 2006, and was named the CSULA President's Distinguished Professor in 2010.

In addition to interests in the application of technology to science education, Desharnais maintains an active NSFfunded research program in the area of theoretical population biology. With students and colleagues, he has published over 50 papers in peerreviewed journals, including Nature, Science, and PNAS. In 1997 Desharnais and his colleagues were credited for the first experimental demonstration of chaotic dynamics in an ecological population.

Contact Information:

Link to Recorded Session

PDF of Presentation

top of page