Virtual laboratories in teaching and learning science

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Image: Shutterstock/Macrovector

Introduction

We live in an era characterized by the rapid development of technology. Computer science has invaded the educational process and is providing us with many opportunities to exploit. An additional challenge faced by STEM educators has been the integration of Inquiry Based Science Learning (IBSL) in teaching. While the use ICT has already penetrated in Inquiry Based Teaching, we have yet to create and implement STEM lesson plans that promote the development of methodological skills and competencies, investigation through experimentation, teamwork and communication among students through collaborative activities.

In recent years, Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) has proved its efficacy in education by expanding on “traditional” lessons and motivating students to actively participate in science [6]. IBSE methods and digital technologies support necessary educational innovations and can be the catalyst for change in educational patterns (in regard to its form, space, functions, services, tools, roles, procedures) [7]. Virtual laboratories are an essential digital tool. In fact, many European schools are equipped with computer classes, tablets and high-speed internet connection while using a huge variety of web-based learning applications, simulations and visualizations. [1]

Description of virtual laboratories environments

Virtual laboratory environments can be divided into following categories [4]:

Simulations

Simulations are imitations of operating systems through time, via computers. These represent a process on the basis of a model that is cheaper, faster, less risky and more affordable than the real process.

Network applets 

The applets are experimental devices in small virtual laboratories and are quite popular in science subjects. They are small in size and easily transported and they can be used regardless of the operating system type.

Virtual labs

Virtual labs (virtual laboratories) simulate a virtual operating system, the computer screen, Science laboratories, exploiting the potential offered by modern media technology key feature technical interaction and direct and plausible manipulation of objects and parameters.

Virtual Reality Laboratories (VRL)

VRL workshops are computer based and highly interactive. The user becomes a participant in a “virtually real” world, in an artificial three-dimensional optical environment. These workshops are essentially an interface high level including real time three-dimensional simulations through different sensory channels.

Laboratories Controlled by Distance (Remote Labs)

Workshops controlled remotely (remote labs, otherwise known as online labs or workbenches) include real experiments conducted from a distance with the use of telecommunications, while the user uses this technology from another location.

Most of the virtual laboratory software consists on computing applications running on the local user’s computer, for speed and security reasons. They can be operated remotely. An example are those based on applets or robotic workshops (remote labs) that can accept commands via the Internet [5]

Benefits of using virtual labs in teaching and learning Science

Virtual labs can be very useful in the teaching of Science, particularly in cases where:

  • The experimental activities are to be done quickly and do not easily allow observation and safe measurement,
  • the experimental process is very slow and / or complex and not compatible with the teaching time available,
  • the experiments involve risks to the health and physical integrity of learners and/or
  • the learning activities require modeling.

Virtual labs support IBSL in learning science:

  • Laws in science arise from a detailed observation processes, with clearly more chances of clarification, understanding and acceptance if regarded in detail.
  • It encourages collaboration and communication between teachers and students. STEM teachers participate actively in the learning process: asking questions, trying to find answers, organizing procedures and commenting on them, helping in formulating conclusions, understanding their mistakes and highlighting any misconceptions.

But what are the differences between real life experiences and those formed by representations in a computer screen?

  • With virtual labs, students acquire a tool with which to experiment without limitations of space or time. They are available all year, as opposed to school laboratories, limited to a specific place and for a limited time. [2].
  • The use of virtual environments makes students acquire better computer skills, which can be considered skills for lifelong learning. The use of these technologies also bring toguether different STEM subjects and provides with great resources for more inclusive workshops [8].

Examples of virtual labs environments in the Scientix repository

Projects:

The Go-Lab project offers a set of remote laboratories, virtual experiments, and data-sets (together referred to as “online labs”) and facilities teachers to embed these online labs in pedagogically structured learning spaces. Go-Lab provides teachers with pedagogical and technical plug (ease of integration), play (ease of use), and share (ease of consolidation) methodologies and infrastructures. The Go-Lab environment will:

  •    Allow teachers to create specific learning spaces;
  •   Provide access to resources supporting the development of realistic and engaging classroom activities;
  •   Facilitate networking and exchanging these activities through an online community.

Go-Lab’s resources come from large scientific organisations, universities and research institutions, as well as from dedicated companies. Go-Lab offers these lab-owners to easily plug their real experiments online and construct their virtual didactic counterparts.

The UniSchooLabS project provides schools with an online toolkit for accessing high quality university science laboratories remotely and creates inquiry-based learning activities for students. The project aims at improving the quality of science education in Europe.

UniSchooLabS fosters collaboration between universities and schools through an online platform that allows teachers an easy access to remote university laboratories through a common web browser. Teacher and students will be able to run experiments, collect data and analyze results. With these new technologies, schools – even those based in rural areas – can access real science experiments and laboratories that would normally be difficult to reach due to their locations, the obsolescence of the equipment, and the limited range of possible experiments.

UniSchooLabS aims to promote the use of new technologies and ICT-based services in order to:

(1) foster teachers’ and students’ competences and skills to live and work in today’s knowledge society and globalised world ; and

(2) increase the attractiveness of science studies and careers to students.

Teaching Resources

Overview of existing repositories of virtual and remote labs [1]

PHET http://phet.colorado.edu

Library of Labs  https://www.library-of-labs.org/

Labshare  http://www.labshare.edu.au/

Open Sources Physics   http://www.compadre.org/osp

Smart Science  http://www.smartscience.net/

Molecular Work-bench  http://mw.concord.org/

Explore Learning http://www.explorelearning.com

Chem-Collective  http://www.chemcollective.org/

Remotely Controlled Laborato-ries (RCL)  http://rcl-munich.informatik.unibw-muenchen.de

Skoool  http://skoool.com

iLab-Central  http://ilabcentral.org

Lab2Go  http://www.lab2go.net

WebLab Deusto  https://www.weblab.deusto.es/weblab/client/#page=home

Virtual Labs http://virtuallabs.nmsu.edu help students learn basic laboratory techniques and practice methods used by lab technicians and researchers in a variety of careers, using specific food science lab processes. It is easy for consumers to take safe food for granted: as most people don’t understand the rigorous testing, research and assessment food and food processing requires. Healthy, safe food is of extreme importance and vital to human survival. Expert lab technicians help make sure that the food we eat and feed to our animals will not harm us or our livestock.

Online labs and educational resources are available in a variety of subjects http://onlinelabs.in/

Chemistry Labs – Includes general chemistry and organic chemistry

Physics Labs – Includes condensed matter and particle physics

Biology Labs – Includes microscopy, genetics, and life science

Anatomy Labs – Includes physiology and dissection

Geology Labs – Includes geosciences and earth science

Astronomy Labs – Includes space science

Design Labs – Includes 3D modeling and 2D graphics

Math Labs – Includes data analysis and graphing

Bibliography

[1] Dikke D., Tsourlidaki E/, Zervas P., Cao Y., Faltin N.,Sotiriou S., Sampson D., Golabz: Towards a federation of online labs for inquiry based science education at School.

[2] Doukeli M. (2012).Virtual labs in teaching physics in secondary school. Research paper for Master Degree. University of Piraeus at department of Digital Systems.

[3] Fischer, J., Mitchell, R. & del Alamo, J. (2007). Inquiry learning with WebLab: Undergraduate Attitudes and Experiences. Journal of Science Education and Technology,16 (4), 337-348.

[4] Harms, U. (2000). Virtual and remote labs in physics education. Proceedings of the Second European Conference on Physics Teaching in Engineering Education, Budapest, Romania (pp. 1-6).

[5] Niederrer et al. (2003). Research about the use of information technology in Science Education. Education research in knowledge based Society. Kluwer Academic Puplishers.

[6] Rocard, M. (2007). Science education NOW: a renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications for the European Commission. Available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/report-rocard-on-science-education_en.pdf.

[7] Sampson, D. (2010). Instructional Design. Course Lectures. University Piraeus 2010.

[8] Tselfes, B. (2002). Trial and error: The workshop on the teaching of Science. Athens:Island. Education and Training Sector (TEK). Training material for teacher training – Issue 5: Sector PE04. CTI. Available from electronics address:

http://axis.teikav.edu.gr/pake/Enotita_7_Logismika_PE04/AMAP_Anoikto_Mathisiako_Perivallon / AMAP-Intro.pdf .

Article written by Argyri Panagiota, Scientix Deputy Ambassador

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One Response to “Virtual laboratories in teaching and learning science”

  1. ASmith says:

    Nice list! Simulations are changing the way science is taught and learned. When you have a moment, please check out SimPop. It is a collection of free interactive science simulations for middle and high school.

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