My Labster Experience: Andrés Garzón, Universidad Pablo de Olavide

Professor Andrés Garzón teaches graduate-level genetics at Universidad Pablo de Olavide, de Sevilla in Spain. The university’s graduate program in Health Biotechnology has been using a blended format to reach graduate students across Spain and introduced Labster as a pilot program in 2017. We talked to him about his personal experience using Labster and why the degree program turned to Labster to engage students.

There were several reasons the Health Biotechnology program decided to adopt Labster in a pilot program. These included providing an engaging learning experience, helping students equalize their knowledge, and improving student satisfaction. But with a number of virtual lab providers on the market, we were curious to hear why the University chose Labster? “We didn’t want to use something like enriched video, we didn’t think that would be engaging. We wanted to use something that had a learning methodology behind it and I liked the learning design in Labster,” Prof. Garzón said.

1. Engaging learning experience

In the first trimester of the Health Biotechnology program students reside all over Spain and complete only online courses that focus on theory. Before using Labster, the online courses were based on reading research papers and writing papers. “We had been teaching in person for many years before Labster so most of the content we delivered to the students were basically PDF papers or books. We wanted them to read them and write research essays and these kind of things, but in the end, it was kind of tedious for the students.”

While students were meeting the learning goals, Prof. Garzón and his fellow professors wanted a better experience for the students. “Learning by doing is something important to us and this is what Labster gives. Of course, when you are talking about online classes, it’s even more important. This is a much better tool for understanding the different techniques that they are going to read about and use later on. That is why we have adopted Labster with such enthusiasm.”

2. Helping students equalize their knowledge

The second main reason for incorporating Labster during the first trimester of the Health Biotechnology program was to help students “level up” their knowledge. “We have this first trimester which is kind of an ‘evening out’ period where we try to level the knowledge of all the students because we have students with different profiles and backgrounds.” Prof. Garzón explained.

In Labster students can repeat simulations as much as they’d like and go through the lab at their own pace. This makes it ideal for students that may not be as familiar with the lab equipment or concepts. Prof. Garzón explained how this helped his students: “They have the opportunity to revise these theoretical ideas and concepts. So if there is something new that they don't understand or they’re unsure about how to apply it, then they can go and read them again. That’s really nice for the students. They don’t have to close the simulation and go read the papers or books and then go back to the simulation. They have all the information there and they have it when they need it. That’s a plus.”

3. Improving Student Satisfaction

After the first trimester of the Health Biotechnology program, students have plenty of time in the wet lab. Before adopting Labster, some of the students had expressed a fear of losing time in the wet lab if virtual labs were to replace them. But that was never Prof. Garzón's or the program's intention with Labster. “From the very beginning, we didn’t adopt the tool as a substitute for a wet lab. We adopted it as a substitute for lectures. We wanted to replace those three to four hours of professors speaking at the students, and introduce a different way of learning.”

Once the expectations of Labster clearly laid out, it was time to find out what the students actually thought of it.“We’ve been measuring the satisfaction of the students to follow up how they feel about the tool.” Prof. Garzón said. “the platform has a survey at the end of every lab so when the student finishes they have to answer a few questions about the simulation they just completed. We’ve been working with those surveys and it turns out that the degree of satisfaction with the simulations is higher than 90% of the students.

"They realize that they can acquire different competencies from working through Labster’s virtual labs— competencies that are different than what they get from studying with books and reading papers.”

Using student data to inform teaching

Labster’s teacher dashboard keeps track of student performance, making it possible for professors to view everything from the number of attempts and the time spent in simulations, to student performance on the quiz questions. Prof. Garzón described how he liked to utilize this data to inform his teaching. “The data gives me an idea of how easy or difficult the lab is for a student. This information gives me a very good indication of whether or not a student needs more help in the learning process. I can then spend more time with that student and figure out what difficulties the student is having.”

Teacher buy-in of virtual labs

When the pilot program of Labster concluded at UPO all professors that participated were surveyed on their thoughts about using Labster and whether it should be continued. The results were that 100% of the professors responded positively to adopting Labster in the Health Biotechnology program. The Health Biotechnology program now has 6 professors using Labster across 7 subject areas.

And finally, when we asked Prof. Garzón if he would recommend Labster to others, he said:

“It’s not if I would recommend it, I am recommending it!”

This blog post was originally published in 2019.

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