Role of Virtual Labs in Career Readiness: Teresa Artho, GBS St. Gallen

For many students in 2018, taking an education means having a strong focus on making yourself employable in a competitive job market. For Teresa Artho, a student at Gewerbliches Berufs- und Weiterbildungszentrum (GBS) St. Gallen in Switzerland, this focus has been realized by taking an apprenticeship as a laboratory assistant, where half of the education takes place in a practical setting—the laboratory.

Teresa was introduced to Labster in the summer of 2018 by her course instructor Jürg Pfeiffer, and she and her classmates have used the virtual labs since then as a part of their training in class.

Read on to learn how Teresa has used Labster to practice her lab skills and prepare for lab work, and how she thinks virtual labs and educational technology play a pivotal role in a modern student’s education.

Practical Vocational Training

GBS St. Gallen is a college that offers education with a focus on practical vocational training. This is based on the demands of the Swiss job market, where (like many other job markets) requirements for training and practical education is becoming increasingly important.

Teresa’s apprenticeship as a textile laboratory assistant involves taking classes at the school for half of the week, and spending the other half on practical training and work in a lab.

Teresa’s professor Jürg Pfeiffer introduced Labster in his course to help the students practice their skills, and to give them a chance to work with advanced laboratory equipment that not all the students had access to in physical labs. The students tried the Lab Safety simulation on the computer as well as in VR, and later also the Molecular Cloning simulation to practice an experiment they were to perform in the lab later on.

“I think the simulations helped us prepare for the lab,” Teresa explained, “It was helpful to practice in a virtual lab before entering a real lab because we then knew what it would be like, how the things work, what they are for, and so on.” Teresa said.

Compared to a real lab, Teresa found that virtual labs offer something that a physical lab doesn’t: “There are a few things that you can do in a virtual lab that you can’t do in a real lab. For example, using the machines and equipment that we don’t have access to in our own labs,” Teresa explained. “Compared to a real lab, I also think the virtual one is a lot less messy, but that’s how it should be! It’s like a real lab.”

The simulations used by Teresa and her classmates were useful for understanding some of the experiments that they performed. The professor let them do the simulations in class before going to the lab, which proved to be beneficial for their understanding of the experiments: “What I like most about the simulations is that you can see what is going on at the molecular level. You can’t see this when you’re performing a real experiment in a physical lab.” Teresa said. “I also like the descriptions that tell you what is going on. Even if you don’t read all of them, they help you if you don’t understand something. In a real lab, you typically have a list of things to do, but you don’t always fully understand why you’re doing those things. Often it’s like a recipe you have to follow. It doesn’t say or show what is happening at the molecular level. But in the virtual labs, it shows you that every step of the way, and it’s really well explained with Labster.”

Working in a virtual lab was new to Teresa and her classmates when they tried Labster, but the virtual world intrigued them: “The first time I saw the 3D animations I was impressed. I didn’t know it was possible to do something like that with VR!”

Trying on the VR goggles for the first time proved to be a success with little effort spent on getting accustomed to the gear: “The first time I used the VR goggles, I thought it was pretty easy because everything was explained. We just tried without reading anything beforehand and it went okay!”

When asked what technology has to offer students like herself, Teresa explained how she thought it not only could help engage and intrigue students, but also help close the knowledge gap that often exists amongst students in the classroom: “I think education as it is is good for people like me who find it easy to understand the subject and follow the teaching, but for those who find it a bit harder, technology can make a huge difference because it makes it possible to adapt the teaching to the level that people are. So if a person is doing an exercise that they find easy, they can move on to the next one, and if another person finds that exercise hard, they can keep practising that until they get it.”

Teresa appreciated what the virtual labs had to offer, but also believed in a balanced use of it in education in general: “I think it’s good to have a mix of technology and other learning materials. I think you have to go through the theory first, but then it’s also great to have the opportunity to practice what you learn with the use of technology, and to perform things that aren’t possible without technology. I don’t think one should replace the other. I think a mix of both is what makes a great education,” Teresa said. “And I would definitely recommend Labster as a part of the mix.”

Teresa shared her appreciation of Labster at GBS St. Gallen’s Tech Day earlier this year, where she presented and demoed the simulations to attendees. “Everyone was positive about Labster,” she said.  

This blog post was originally published in 2018.

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