Virtual labs is a topic that interests me as an online teacher but also because I am aware that for economical, physical and timely reasons, schools cannot offer a vast variety of hands-on experiments to their students. What are virtual labs? They “are fully interactive simulations in which students perform experiments, collect data, and answer questions to assess their understanding. The labs combine animations, illustrations, and videos to convey key information and engage students in the process of science”(hhmi, 2017). As I was reading this definition, I was getting excited about the possibilities that this technology could provide to the students and teachers. There are also remote labs which “enables actors (such as students or employees) to carry out experiments over the Internet which are normally performed in real-time physical studies in educational laboratories.”
Source: Retrieved January 20, 2017 from https://lh3.ggpht.com/s50cj8u3DEPMr5dtFYDETsdhtHqXuTF73h1TfVGWyYIGtuziSRydyJcDG4zb2VAQIPk=h900
In my university days, I took Chemistry and Biology courses. Beside the lectures, we had three hour labs every week which would provide hands-on experience of what we were learning in class. However, when I began teaching in a face-to-face (f2f) environment, I noticed that the laboratory supplies were limited, that there was not much time to organize labs and in some cases, that the class composition would not allow for it. I can see now how virtual labs would solve many of these issues.
Advantages of integrating virtual labs in a course:
However, there are also issues caused by the integration of virtual labs in a course:
Overall, I can see the benefits of using virtual labs in a classroom as long as the technology is available to all students in the course. So, I began searching online for some. I was amazed at how much there is available for free on a variety of subject areas such as biology, physics, chemistry, etc. These were geared mostly towards high school and university students but I found a few for middle school. As I teach in French Immersion and my children attend a French school, I was interested to find out if there were virtual labs also available in French. The variety and the quantity were lesser, but there are some.
Links of virtual labs available:
1- hhmi-biointeractive http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/neurophysiology-virtual-lab Biology- cardiology, neurology, genetics, etc (virtual labs and animation)
2- Virtual labs http://virtuallabs.nmsu.edu/ Biology 11 and 12
3- Others can be found in the NMC Horizon Reports http://www.nmc.org/nmc-horizon/ p. 32
1- Algodoo: http://www.algodoo.com/what-is-it/ Physics -Middle to high school
2- Phet Simulations https://phet.colorado.edu/fr/simulations/category/new Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Sciences, Maths
3- GeoGebra: http://dmentrard.free.fr/GEOGEBRA/index.htm Maths and Physics
These are only a few examples of what is available online. If I get to a point to teach science again either f2f or online, I will definitely spend more time researching what would fit with the curriculum as I would like to integrate some virtual labs in my courses. I might even consider letting students pursue a subject of interest and do testing online via virtual labs.
According to Micheal Bodekaer (2015), « This virtual lab will revolutionize science class ». He mentioned a study done to determine if students learned better using virtual labs or not. The results found that “the learning effectiveness was 76% higher for students having experimented in virtual labs compared to students who learned the material in traditional manner. Furthermore, when the virtual lab experience was combined with coaching and mentoring from the teachers, the impact on the learning was increased by 101%.” However, I don’t believe that I would use only virtual labs in my classes. I think there are still some benefits for students to experience hand-on activities in real life. Like almost everything in life, it should be approached with balance so, virtual labs should be made available to students for experiments that require more complexed equipment and higher costs, but students should also conduct experiments on basic concepts in a traditional lab. This would provide a way to balance the time spend in class focusing on the content and the practical aspect of learning
Bodekaer , Michael. (2015). This virtual lab will revolutionize science class. Retrieved January 20, 2017 from https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_bodekaer_this_virtual_lab_will_revolutionize_science_class
hhmi Biointeractive. 2017. Retrieved Jan 20, 2017 from http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/explore-virtual-labs
Seiler, Sven. (March, 2014). Definition of remote, online, virtual, simulation and distance labs. Retrieved January 21, 2017 from https://seiler.it/remote-and-virtual-labs/
Bates, Tony. (Jan. 2013) Can you teach lab science via remote labs? Retrieved January 21, 2017 from http://www.tonybates.ca/2013/04/22/can-you-teach-lab-science-via-remote-labs/
French article on VL possibilities