Dr. Monica Westley, Assistant Professor of Biology at Marymount California University (MCU), was looking for a way to accommodate student athletes and give students lab experience while the physical lab at the University was under construction, when she came across Labster through a search online.
The University had recently undergone a lab remodel and were therefore not able to offer their students a practical lab component in the spring 2019 classes.
Dr. Westley had heard about virtual labs, and thought that they might be able to offer her students lab practice in a virtual format. “I googled 'the best high quality virtual lab experiences for college students' and came across Labster and found that they were able to provide more basic simulations that were appropriate for my Gen Bio course,” she explained to Labster in an interview.
“I googled 'the best high quality virtual lab experiences for college students' and came across Labster."
She ran her first course with Labster in the fall of 2018. To get her students started with Labster, she introduced them to the simulations at the beginning of the course: “I explained to them what it is, what it looks like, and then we did the first one together in class.” This meant that her students got off to a good start with the simulations and could familiarize themselves with it in a comfortable learning environment.
Having used the simulations for two semesters now, Dr. Westley shared how it had been to use virtual labs with her students so far: “My students have enjoyed using Labster a lot. They get exposure to a lot more things than our small university could otherwise provide. It gives them an in-depth experience by letting them use more sophisticated tools and learning techniques than our physical labs offer. They’ve actually been able to improve some of their techniques such as pipetting.”
Dr. Westley has used Labster in both a blended learning format, and as a lab replacement: “In spring it was the only lab experience they had because the physical lab was totally under construction, but in the fall we did a mix.” Both models worked well for the course. “I wed the labs we do to the curriculum we do in the classroom,” she said. In that way the students could learn new concepts and have them reinforced with the virtual labs.
“Labster provides a way for schools without lots of resources, to still engage students in a deep and meaningful lab experience.”
The goals and tasks that she used Labster to accomplish included deeper learning, higher student motivation and engagement, lower costs, efficiency improvement, easier assessment, and more lab/skills training. “Labster provides a way for schools without lots of resources, to still engage students in a deep and meaningful lab experience.” Dr. Westley said. "Additionally, Labster works beautifully to help student athletes who often miss physical labs, to keep up with the class.”
To measure the success and student satisfaction with Labster, Dr. Westley asked her Spring 2019 class students to complete a survey at the end of the semester. In the survey, the students were asked to report their satisfaction on five parameters on a likert scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest rating. The results of the survey were as follows:
Did you enjoy using Labster to learn about Gen Bio? (Mean rating: 4.7)
Did you think that the content was applicable to Gen Bio? (Mean rating: 4.7)
Did you learn effectively from Labster? (Mean rating 4.5)
Was Labster easy to understand and learn from? (Mean rating: 4.2)
Would you like to use Labster as an online learning tool in Biology again? (Mean rating: 4.3)
Dr. Westley’s adoption of Labster was a way to help students succeed. This quality earned her the MCU faculty member of the year award. For this award, students were invited to nominate faculty based on the following prompt: This award exemplifies a commitment to scholarship, teaching, and service. This person must have displayed compassion in meeting students' needs behind the scenes, and consistently sets an example for other faculty members in both their teaching and their assistance to students.
“ I realized it was a great tool to extend the lab experience of my students who have limited resources."
In conclusion, we asked Dr. Westley if she wanted to recommend Labster to other professors. “Absolutely,” she said. “Labster provided a real benefit. My students wouldn’t have had a lab section in the Spring 2019 course otherwise, so it was really beneficial in that way. And getting into it, I realized it was a great tool to extend the lab experience of my students who have limited resources. To be able to give them a first class lab experience was really great.”
This blog post was originally published in 2019.
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