Recommendations For How To Teach with Labster 

Monique Mainella, Pedagogical Consultant and Instructor, Collegial Sainte-Anne 

How Pedagogical Scenarios and Sequences Enhance the Use of STEM Simulations

It is quite common that virtual labs are used in isolation, without educational context. However, it is the careful crafting of pedagogical sequences and scenarios that truly embed virtual labs and enrich the learning experience. In fact, embedding a lab simulation in a pedagogical sequence or scenario and even working with an education consultant have been shown to be highly beneficial (Poellhuber et al., 2022). The collaboration between the pedagogical consultant and the subject matter experts for courses like biology or chemistry, for example, allows for more thoughtful planning of simulations that results in increased motivation for students and a greater sense of buy-in for the teachers involved.

Before we get too detailed, however, let's broadly outline some of the common ways in which simulations are used.

8 Popular Strategies Used by Educators in the Labster Community

  1. Pre-labs: Many educators use Labster before a wet lab to train procedure in advance, and ultimately, reduce time wasted during wet labs through enhanced preparation.
  2. Reviewing labs: Simulations empower students to review completed labs without the on-site equipment. This can be especially beneficial for refreshing knowledge from old lab experiences before end of year assessments.
  3. Introducing theory: Starting new units can be a challenge as the material is by its nature unfamiliar to students. Interactive, narrative scenarios help students visualize abstract theory and process knowledge within relatable contexts. This makes simulation assignments powerful tools to deploy before the first lecture of a new unit.
  4. Coaching on-site: For struggling students especially, many educators find it useful to go through a lab together as a class, where they can substitute a lecture with an experience asks the whole class to advance through a simulation, on step at a time, together.
  5. Remedial skills training: Knowledge gaps are a perennial headwind to science learning. Especially at the beginning of a course, many programs see benefit in addressing holes in student knowledge or experience with simulations focused on pre-requisite subject matter.
  6. Getting students excited: Sometimes, the biggest barrier is as simple as a lack of student engagement or interest in a course topic. Interactive scenarios are useful pedagogical tools to breakup lectures and whet student interest on a given topic.
  7. Assessments: Before we get into exactly what assessments look like with Labster, on a very basic level, educators find value in being able to track student progress and see which students have completed coursework, and which students are struggling with a given simulation. At the most basic level, tracking student progress is orienting for assessing pedagogical strategy.
  8. Expanding curriculum beyond budget limitations: Finally, virtual labs provide opportunities to offer students stem experiences that would otherwise be cost prohibitive due to expensive equipment or difficulty with scale.

How to Position the Virtual Lab Simulation within A Pedagogical Scenario or Sequence 

When considering a pedagogical sequence in lesson planning the strategic placement of the lab simulation extends its pedagogical usefulness. Marquis & Poellhuber (2022) researched the teaching of virtual lab simulations within a pedagogical framework made up of four parts: pre-briefing, briefing, integration of virtual lab, and debriefing. 

  • Pre-briefing: In the pre-briefing phase, learners are prompted with activities and questions about the subject that will be broached in the lab, they may watch related videos, read texts, or even complete a diagnostic test, for example. 
  • Briefing: In the briefing phase, learners are provided support about how to use the virtual lab and platform. They are presented with the course objectives and how they align with the specific lab to be used amongst other things. 
  • Integration: In the integration phase, students play the virtual lab simulation. Instructors make the experience more active by prompting students by asking questions such as “what do you think will happen next?” and by asking students to note down their observations.
  • Debriefing: Finally, the debriefing phase is where the learners reflect on the lab they experimented with in terms of the process they went through to complete it. It is also an opportunity to synthesize what they learned by writing a report. The extensive attention given in the briefing phase may be more suitable for first-time virtual lab users, but this phase is important to maintain interest and engagement. 

Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to Motivate All Students

It is during these phases that the teacher can make calculated choices when considering UDL to maximize learning opportunities. For example, in the pre-briefing phase, the teacher may decide that some students will read a text while others will watch a video prior to the lab. Though the subject for both groups is the same, the content is different. Students may then be paired up and share what both the video and text had to offer to the learning. In the briefing phase, students can express in a variety of ways what they know while subsequently engaging in a lab simulation that is engaging and novel (CAST, 2018).

Virtual lab simulations allow teachers to maximize learning opportunities and tap into the main principles of UDL by considering the different ways in which course content can be represented and the different ways to engage students (Ciasullo 2018). Using virtual lab simulations allows for the consolidation of subject matter, enables learning about concepts that would not otherwise be easily understood, and permit the visualization of otherwise invisible structures and processes (Poellhuber et al., 2022). 

Research has shown that the use of virtual labs in an academic context increases motivation. Students report that the gaming feel and the means to track progression are motivating. 

Benefits of a “Guide on the Side”: Instructor-Guided Simulation 

When educators facilitate students’ use of simulations, it can be helpful to provide additional information while the students are completing the lab, for example letting them know how to manipulate a function or how to overcome a simple glitch. Doing so reduces the potential for learners to become frustrated and enhances their learning experience (Poellhuber et al., 2022). Although this additional “guide on the side” involves more effort for the teacher, students reported that it helped them to remain motivated and stay on course because they didn’t have to stop the simulation or wait until later to ask the teacher for help.

Using Virtual Labs for Assessment

One other consideration would be to use the lab as a tool to consolidate learning. When considering this use, the learners can show their understanding of the subject matter taught over the course of several classes prior to the presentation of the lab simulation. In this way, the simulation can be used formatively as a review or to check for understanding. The labs may also be used for summative assessment purposes.

Virtual labs can be used to activate prior knowledge (APK)

APK is used for students to connect what they already know to what is about to be explicitly taught or experienced (Ferlazzo et al., 2018). For example, by using a lab to discover why some blood types are incompatible, the learner can connect the content of the lab to what they may already know. 

Students are motivated when a science lab simulation is used before a teacher-led lecture or activity, and they acquire learning through using and experimenting in the lab. Using a lab to APK allows learners to chart their progress toward comprehension of content from what they knew prior to the lab to what they gained after completing the lab simulation.

Choosing Virtual Labs Using the SAMR Framework 

Since using technology in our teaching has become mainstream, it is important that educators use the SAMR framework to strategically select technology that will assist them in meeting their goals (Puentedura, 2014).  

When we consider the use of Labster virtual labs, we are reaching the fourth level of the SAMR framework of technology integration, where the technology is transformative. In the fourth level, which Puentedura calls “Redefinition,” the technology is used to redefine a task or to do what would normally not be possible in a classroom because of cost or physical and geographical limitations. This is where a virtual lab can truly be advantageous.

Final Thoughts

If online courses have taught us anything, it is that using virtual science labs is not only technically possible but also advantageous for learning. Labster’s advanced platform has enhanced the STEM learning experience to the extent that it can be an integral part of a teacher’s course planning - both for online and in-person learning. 


Ciasullo, A. (2018). Universal Design for Learning: the relationship between subjective simulation, virtual environments, and inclusive education. Research on Education and Media, 10(1), 42-48.

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

Ferlazzo, L., & Sypnieski, K. H. (2018). The ELL teacher's toolbox: Hundreds of practical ideas to support your students. John Wiley & Sons.

Hamilton, E. R., Rosenberg, J. M., & Akcaoglu, M. (2016). The substitution augmentation modification redefinition (SAMR) model: A critical review and suggestions for its use. TechTrends, 60(5), 433-441. 

Marquis, C. et Poellhuber, B. (2022). Gabarit de planification d'un scénario pédagogique  en réalité virtuelle.

Poellhuber, B. (2022). Pedagogical practices associated with sophisticated pedagogical scenarios using VR simulations in postsecondary science courses

Poellhuber, B. (2022). VR simulations and behavioural engagement: A multilevel analysis

Puentedura, R. (2014). Learning, technology, and the SAMR model: Goals, processes, and practice [Weblog post]. Retrieved from

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