Finding the Virtue in Virtual Labs

0

Virtual labs can be a boon to science instruction, capturing the excitement of discovery and encouraging students to think earnestly about STEM careers. While no one would advocate working exclusively with virtual labs, they can play an important role in expanding the classroom repertory: experiments that had been too dangerous, difficult, expensive, or time-consuming are no longer off limits.

titration

The VLab on acid-base chemistry helps students develop an understanding of titrations, titration curves, and associated calculations.

With SAS Curriculum Pathways VLabs, for example, students can learn about unstable atomic nuclei without being exposed to radioactive materials. They can perform genetic crosses without maintaining a population of mating organisms and waiting for offspring to emerge.

Moreover, for many abstract concepts, virtual labs are the only practical means of instruction: one can’t, after all, send students up in space to observe an eclipse or cause an earthquake so that they can learn the principles of plate tectonics. But virtual labs help students visualize these concepts in ways conventional materials cannot.

With VLab: Evidence for Plate Tectonics, students discover the characteristics of geologic features that form as plates move apart, collide, or slide past each other; measure plate densities and thicknesses to learn how one plate can slide under another; and uncover additional evidence as you examine the age and magnetic patterns of earth's ocean floor.

Using the plate tectonics VLab, students discover the characteristics of geologic features that form as plates move apart, collide, or slide past each other; measure plate densities and thicknesses to learn how one plate can slide under another; and uncover additional evidence while they examine the age and magnetic patterns of the ocean floor.

Finally, interactive features, animations, and immediate feedback can be the difference between comprehension and despair. That's a crucial issue when we're talking about students who might give up on STEM careers under the mistaken impression that they "can't do science." For many students, working with a virtual lab is like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time: what had been cloudy suddenly becomes clear.

By staying interested and informed through virtual labs, students can develop the foundational skills they’ll need to succeed as scientists working under real-world constraints.

A recent Los Angeles Times article clarifies the rationale for (and the impact of) virtual labs: “When we look at the rapid growth in the number of students versus science lab facilities, it's just not enough," said Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor for academic technology services for the Cal State system. "Students end up taking these courses later or delaying graduation. Facilities bottlenecks are one reason we're looking at the virtual labs idea."

Hanley adds that “The idea that virtual labs are a poor substitute” for students pursuing STEM careers “is not actually true anymore.”

Initial studies support Hanley’s assertion: "Last spring, a pilot project at Cal State L.A. compared the success of students participating in traditional labs with those using an all-online format and a 'flipped' lab model, where online students met in the classroom every two weeks. Students in the flipped model maintained their interest and got better grades, the study found. Perhaps equally important, the virtual labs were able to accommodate more students and proved less expensive to operate."

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers a wide range of virtual labs to inspire your students and clarify core science concepts. Check out the partial list (below) or enter “virtual labs” in our Search feature to see the full range of our offerings.

VLab: Free Fall
VLab: Kinetic and Potential Energy
VLab: Evidence for Plate Tectonics
VLab: Eclipses
VLab: Atomic Structure
VLab: Properties of Stars
VLab: Acid-Base Chemistry (Titrations)

 

Share

About Author

Tim McBride

Supervisor, Educational Multimedia Writing

Tim McBride has degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology and NC State University, where he taught English for several years. His first book of poetry, The Manageable Cold, was published recently by TriQuarterly Press at Northwestern University. He works as a writer and an editor on Curriculum Pathways. He lives in Cary, NC, with an American pit bull terrier named Charlie McCarthy and a Catahoula hog dog named Junk.

Leave A Reply

Back to Top