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Virtual labs are equivalent to authentic labs. (pro). John Olson & Afrodita Fuentes. Position Statement: ( Intro).

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position statement intro

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.

virtual labs flexibility intro

Virtual labs – flexibility (Intro)

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

virtual labs personalization intro

Virtual Labs – personalization (Intro)

every student actively participates

multiple scenarios can be presented for students

students can repeat the experiment multiple times

students receive prompt & personalized feedback

virtual labs personalization intro5

Virtual Labs – personalization (Intro)

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).”

factors driving cookbooking

Factors driving 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: )

scope of virtual laboratories

Scope of Virtual Laboratories

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.”

scope of virtual laboratories10

Scope of Virtual Laboratories

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

research supporting vl northwestern university

Research Supporting VLNorthwestern University

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.

research supporting vl northwestern university12

Research Supporting VLNorthwestern University

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.

research supporting vl northwestern university13

Research Supporting VLNorthwestern University

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.


research supporting vl the virtual chemlab project

Research Supporting VLThe Virtual ChemLab Project

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).

research supporting vl university of texas

Research Supporting VLUniversity of Texas

Vickie Freeman, chairwoman of clinical laboratory sciences and the Medical Branch’s School of Allied Health Sciences commented about the effectiveness of virtual laboratories.

research supporting vl university of texas16

Research Supporting VLUniversity of Texas

 “..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.”


research supporting vl university of north carolina

Research Supporting VL University of North Carolina

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)

research supporting vl university of north carolina18

Research Supporting VL University of North Carolina

“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.”

what students have to say

What students have to say

“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.”

what students have to say20

What students have to say

 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.”

what students have to say21

What students have to say

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.”

what students have to say22

What students have to say

Students liked the fact that virtual reactions were quick, and could be repeated multiple times, so they were more confident in their results.

what students have to say23

What students have to say

Many students also reported that the simulation “increased their understanding of the subject matter and improved their ability to think like chemists.”

learning modalities addressed

Learning modalities addressed

“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)

learning modalities addressed25

Learning modalities addressed

Allows for a wider variety of learning styles

Allows students to explore and experiment

summary benefits of virtual labs

Summary Benefits of Virtual Labs

Complements the traditional methods.

It permits the reflective self training of students throughout their individual work

summary benefits of virtual labs28

Summary Benefits of Virtual Labs

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.

summary benefits of virtual labs29

Summary Benefits of Virtual Labs

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.

summary benefits of virtual labs30

Summary Benefits of Virtual Labs

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.

summary benefits of virtual labs31

Summary Benefits of Virtual Labs

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.

summary research supporting vl keller keller

Summary: Research Supporting VLKeller & Keller

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.

summary research supporting vl keller keller33

Summary: Research Supporting VLKeller & Keller

Virtual labs can “provide boundaries to exploration that gently channel students toward instructional goals while allowing real science to take place

summary research supporting vl keller keller34

Summary: Research Supporting VLKeller & Keller

Teachers can provide a variety of scenarios for students to choose. “Exploration may be limited but manageable and open for inquiry, exploration, and discovery.”

summary closing thought

Summary: Closing thought

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)