Explore Biology with Labster's Scientific Content Creator

Dr. Ciara O'Donovan

Welcome to Labster, an immersive digital STEM learning platform! This article discusses how Labster can help to target and solve some of the main challenges of teaching and learning Biology. 

My name is Ciara and I am a Senior Biologist in Labster’s Learning Solutions team. I have a BSc in Zoology, which spanned a variety of topics from molecular genetics to ecology, animal behavior, and comparative anatomy. Following this, I completed a PhD and spent several years as a Post-doc in Evolutionary Biology, developing phylogenetic comparative methods. These methods modeled how the dinosaurs expanded their distribution and moved across the globe and the mechanisms by which morphological diversity has arisen through deep time. During this time, I aided in teaching practical classes to undergraduate students, designed and delivered undergraduate lectures, and participated in many outreach activities. 

The beauty and complexity of the natural world inspire curiosity and exploration, urging us to unravel and attempt to understand the intricacies of life on Earth. However, the sheer vastness of nature also presents significant challenges to both teaching and learning Biology. As educators, we are often required to break concepts down into digestible components, striving to make the theory accessible to students. Yet, this can inadvertently lead to a fragmented understanding of biological principles, where knowledge is compartmentalized into isolated slivers. This approach tends to hinder students from fully grasping the rich tapestry of interconnections that knit the natural world together, obscuring the holistic view crucial for appreciating the complexity and interdependence of life’s structures and processes. 

Synthesizing connections and drawing knowledge from across topics in Biology is a process made easier with Labster simulations. By contextualizing learning into ‘real-life’ scenarios, simulations not only expose students to theory but also frame information and learning as part of real science careers and ‘everyday’ biology. Students can leverage the knowledge and techniques delivered in those isolated slivers and piece them back together to solve real-world problems. 

In ‘Blood Components: Dive into the microscopic world of blood cells!’ students experience how understanding the morphology and roles of the different blood cells can aid in diagnosing patients and helping them to receive the right treatments by examining their blood samples. Learners are guided through lab techniques and supported in analyzing patient blood such that they can make recommendations. Students, acting as hematologists in this sim, will knit together their understanding of microscopy, blood cell morphology, immune and circulatory systems, parasitism and epidemiology without even meaning to. Still, those connections may inspire them in their studies and future careers.   

BLO: Learn and reinforce knowledge of blood cell morphology and function

A world away, in the ‘Eutrophication’ simulation, students don ‘ecological investigator hats’ as they face a mass fish death, causing a loss of income for local fishermen and a fish farm. To solve the question of what happened to the fish requires an understanding of interactions within ecosystems, nutrient cycling, agriculture and human impacts on the environment. Quiz questions along the way ensure that knowledge of decomposition, algal ecology, and trophic levels helps to piece together the parts of the mystery. A suite of techniques such as light microscopy, spectrophotometry, viewing satellite imagery, hypothesis formation and hypothesis testing facilitate students' unraveling of the problem. Compelled by a storyline and supported by a linear progression through the investigation, learners rely on and use knowledge from many Biology courses and can see the real-life applications and implications of drawing together their understanding.  

Labster simulations provide students with a fun, engaging, and supportive learning environment. The encouragement, guidance, and reassurance provided to learners help to remove the fear of ‘taking a punt’ (failing), and learning to connect the pieces of a biological puzzle. The contextualization of our biology simulations makes the reluctant students’ age-old question of ‘When am I ever going to need to know this?’ vanish as they experience a real scenario outside the theory-driven classroom. Labster encourages students to ask questions and empowers them with the skills and knowledge to answer them or the confidence to find out how to. Regardless of students’ location, culture, or financial background, they can participate in these lab and field experiences, gaining exposure to real Biology and exploring the future role they could play in uncovering nature’s secrets.       

If you would like to find out more about Labster or use our Biology simulations in your courses, then we would love to hear from you! Please reach out to our friendly team to set up a meeting. You can also connect with other Biology educators via the Labster Community Campus

Author: Dr. Ciara O'Donovan, Biology Guide & Sr. Scientific Content Creator

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