Biology, the study of life, is a beautiful, exciting, and rapidly changing discipline. In the last 60 years, we’ve discovered the link among all living things through our growing understanding of genetics. This has opened doors for new discoveries across all of biology, from the study of cells to ecological interactions.
As we develop more complex knowledge, we must find new and more effective ways to teach biology. A typical biology textbook contains forty chapters, maybe more. Students and teachers alike may be overwhelmed by the amount of information in a biology course. How do you cover all the content? How do today’s science teachers achieve the ideal so beautifully articulated by the Nobel Prize winning biologist E.O. Wilson?
From the freedom to explore comes the joy or learning. From knowledge acquired by personal initiative arises the desire for more knowledge. And from the mastery of the novel and beautiful world awaiting every child comes self-confidence.
While there isn’t a single approach to good science teaching, showing students how the process of scientific discovery works is one of the best ways to light up their eyes and awaken Wilson’s “desire for more knowledge.” Evidence shows that students learn better by discovering principles the way real scientists do. How do we teach students not only science concepts, but also how to investigate the natural world and solve challenging problems?
Our biology virtual labs clarify abstract concepts in novel ways that provide a practical means of instruction. Experiments that might be dangerous, difficult, or expensive are no longer off-limits. Think of a typical “wet lab” in which students investigate osmosis. What limitations might students encounter? Will they actually see the movement of water? Will dialysis bags and solute concentrations be labeled correctly?
By using our virtual lab on membranes, students understand how pressure, temperature, and extracellular solute concentration affect water movement through cell membranes. If students make a mistake, they simply reset the simulation. Although virtual labs do not replicate the real world exactly, they excel at presenting certain features in a controlled environment. Some experiments that would take months or years to complete can be simulated in a class period. For example, in the VLab: Disease Dynamics, students investigate how infectious diseases affect human population growth.
During traditional labs, you might notice some students feel lost and unsure of the next step. They need to practice inquiry. Virtual labs provide students with experience in a self-paced setting. Throughout these lessons, carefully selected questions help students learn the content, maintain interest, and use various cognitive skills. Students make predictions, experiment using multi-step procedures, gather and convey data visually, draw conclusions, and communicate their results.
While no one would argue that virtual labs ought to completely replace traditional labs, more and more teachers are recognizing the benefits VLabs offer, particularly as they become more sophisticated. “The idea that virtual labs are a poor substitute” for the work students will do as professionals “is not actually true anymore,” says Gerry Hanley, assistant vice-chancellor for academic technology services in the Cal State system.
Our virtual labs include biological processes ranging from cell division and genetics to photosynthesis, ecology, and evolution. Virtual labs help students grasp difficult concepts in a way that mere words or the static images cannot.
Check out the rest of our biology virtual labs: