Virtual labs are equivalent to authentic labs. (pro). John Olson & Afrodita Fuentes. Position Statement: ( Intro).
By its very design, a virtual lab cannot be identical to an authentic wet lab. However, by weighing the many benefits of a virtual lab against the traditional wet lab, an argument can be made that virtual labs are equivalent in value to the learner because they address different learning styles and offer a more flexible and open ended environment for inquiry.
can be conducted anytime and anywhere
No time is needed for equipment set-up & wait time for results
lessen safety issues without the use of dangerous chemicals
Lower cost – no lab equipment, materials, and lab space necessary
every student actively participates
multiple scenarios can be presented for students
students can repeat the experiment multiple times
students receive prompt & personalized feedback
provide boundaries and goals towards instructional goals
limit the range of exploration to something manageable and challenging, but still allow for inquiry, exploration, and discovery
“A significant fraction of students go through these (wet) laboratories with little thought about what they should learn, but narrowly follow the written directions for and experiment to get the expected results (affectionately called cookbooking).”
The study further suggested that “a prime factor behind this tendency to “cookbook” is the rigidity imposed upon instructional laboratories by severe time constraints, large numbers of students, costs, environmental considerations, and safety considerations.” (Woodfield, et al, 2004 The Virtual ChemLab Project: )
ChemLab Project is “not to teach laboratory technique…” but “…instead focus on the “what”, “when”, and “why” of experiments.” Woodfield, et all
“…designed to connect theory with practice and to teach cognitive thinking skills.”
With the virtual lab, students don’t have to worry about messing up or about wasting time and materials, and have the ability to create multiple scenarios
The study compared electronic engineering students using computer aided simulation software with traditional hands on laboratory equipment. (Hall, T. M., 2000)
Mean scoring results showed no difference in the scores between the two groups.
Overall students did not believe that either of the two environments was significantly better for learning the objective of the lab or the relevant theory.
Perhaps the most compelling pro VL argument in Hall’s research were his comments on recent experiences with “the local and regional job market for Northwestern State’s EET graduates. Employers are expecting more computer based design and problem-solving skills than ever before.” Virtual labs may in this circumstance be preferable to hardware labs.
Analysis of the data determined that “students who used the inorganic simulation believe that the program increases their ability to apply the principles and understanding they acquired in the classroom to a problem solving setting.” (Woodfield, et all 2004).
Vickie Freeman, chairwoman of clinical laboratory sciences and the Medical Branch’s School of Allied Health Sciences commented about the effectiveness of virtual laboratories.
“..students don’t have to worry about ruining expensive bacterial cultures—they are part of a computer simulation “We’re actually able to give them more variables than we would in a clinical laboratory. Virtually we can re-create any circumstances we want.”
Online students do chemistry projects at home in their kitchen and report back results to their instructors via the internet.
Professor Reeves commented that “…they are also learning at least as much as they would learn in an on-campus chemistry lab.”
(Carnevale, D. 2003 p. 9)
“online students outperformed on-campus students on the final exams and on the in-lab practical exams” that Reeves gave to some of the distance learners.”
“75% of the students like the simulation program for many reasons: …it allowed them the freedom to explore, …to focus on underlying chemistry principles, …to repeat procedures, …and it was easy to use.”
Another stated that “…It also is interesting to try a bunch of experiments while they are all fresh in your mind and have them work out quick so you can fully analyze everything all at once and recognize the main point.”
One student surveyed stated that “I found that trial and error is a viable option, and I was much more apt to run several trial runs since they were easier to do than in a wet lab.”
“For the first time, these students learned the value of trial and error and of gathering and analyzing multiple pieces of data… …to decide which experimental procedures will achieve the desired result.”
Students liked the fact that virtual reactions were quick, and could be repeated multiple times, so they were more confident in their results.
Many students also reported that the simulation “increased their understanding of the subject matter and improved their ability to think like chemists.”
“The use of a VCL program is beneficial to students. Students showed a better comprehension of the techniques and basic concepts used in their laboratory work. Use of VCL especially contributed to improving the work of those students who have the greatest learning deficiencies.”
(Martinez-Jimenez, Pontes-Pedrajas, Polo, & Climent-Bellido, 2003)
Allows for a wider variety of learning styles
Allows students to explore and experiment
Complements the traditional methods.
It permits the reflective self training of students throughout their individual work
Creates a viable option for distance learners.
Provides practical experience by connecting the theory taught in the classroom with the “real world” of the laboratory.
Addresses the problem of overcrowded classes.
Allows instructors to focus on the explanation of basic theories and reduces the time devoted to instrument operation and technique.
Provides a realistic learning environment for different learning styles
Teaches the cognitive processes (or analytical skills) that form the foundation of chemistry and other laboratory sciences.
A simulated environment helps overcome the tendency of students to “cookbook” by reducing many of the constraints of wet labs including costs, environmental and safety considerations.
Virtual labs offer more “student guidance, immediate support, tracking, & accountability.” No student is left waiting for the teacher’s instructions and no student waits for the others to do everything in the group.
Virtual labs can “provide boundaries to exploration that gently channel students toward instructional goals while allowing real science to take place
Teachers can provide a variety of scenarios for students to choose. “Exploration may be limited but manageable and open for inquiry, exploration, and discovery.”
It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in 5 years.
John Von Neumann (ca. 1949)