Immersive Biomedical Education: Gavin Knight, University of Portsmouth

Gavin Knight is the course leader for the BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences course at the University of Portsmouth, UK. The Biomedical Sciences degree at Portsmouth has been around for over 40 years and over the past few years, in particular, they have seen the course double in size. Developing the Biomedical Science courses resulted in the introduction of a degree apprenticeship. This apprenticeship program is focused on upskilling existing National Health Services staff to qualify as Biomedical Scientists. With the addition of the apprenticeship program, Gavin was looking for professional materials that would serve the distance learning model of the new apprenticeship course format. With Labster, Gavin has been able to consolidate and deliver learning in new ways to his Biomedical students. We recently spoke to him about why he chose Labster and how he implemented it at his University.

Immersive Education

Gavin first heard about Labster when a representative from Labster was running experiential sessions with the Faculty of Sciences. Faculty members were free to drop into sessions, learn about Labster and play around with the VR simulations.

"It is completely immersive technology and I liked the idea of being able to bring some of that gamified experience into the course.”

Recalling his first attempt at using Labster, “My colleague, Sarah Fouch, and I went to a demonstration and we were introduced to Sam from Labster. We had the opportunity to try one of the simulations using the VR headset. We got to try the forensic lab simulation. During the simulation, you are shrunk down into the PCR machine, this is the machine that amplifies DNA. As you look around, DNA and enzymes are surrounding you and flying around. It was just a really fun experience! It is completely immersive technology and I liked the idea of being able to bring some of that gamified experience into the course.”

Integrating virtual labs into courses

As the course leader, Gavin integrated Labster into the existing course framework. With this experience Gavin shared with us his five key tips to integrating Labster successfully:

1. Integrate with existing LMS 

“In the first year, we ran it, the uptake was not great. It was set up where students had to log into the Labster website directly, requiring an extra step to access the resource. It was one step too far for some students. The following year, we managed to get Labster integrated with Moodle and that was a game-changer. The fact that our license with Labster allows access to all Labster simulations means we can top up Moodle content as new simulations are released.”

2. Introduce Labster to students

As the course leader, Gavin plays a significant role during induction week for the Biomedical Sciences. Gavin identified the induction week as the perfect time to introduce Labster to students. He introduces Labster by playing a simulation as a group, ensuring that students know how to find each simulation in Moodle and how to navigate through the simulations. Gavin said: “By having a presence in induction week, it shows that Labster is part of the fabric of the course. Students know how to use it and where to use it. We run through it and show them how to log in, how to navigate around, look at the labpad and find the teaching resources. We also answer some questions in the simulation together."

3. Attach assessment criteria to the simulations

Following discussions with his Deputy Course Leader, Chris Wilkinson, they decided to introduce Labster as part of their assessment strategy for the introductory laboratory key skills module. “This significantly changed how students engaged with the simulations, resulting in 100% engagement from the first-year cohort. Rather than being considered a supplementary to the main curriculum, Labster became part of the fundamentals of the course. We didn't want to use the grades from Labster summatively, to begin with, so we decided to ask students to reflect on their use of Labster as a ‘low stakes’ assessment. However, now that we are more confident with using Labster, we will be using the marks students generate from each of their simulations as a component of their key skills portfolio.”

4. Complement existing curriculum

"I recommend that academics try Labster before launching it in a course. Give it a go and see if it works with your students and your curriculum. ‘Buy-in’ and engagement from Chris Wilkinson - also the coordinator for our key skills module - was critical. Chris tried out a number of simulations himself, integrating the release of each simulation with the order of lectures and lab classes in his module. Chris has an excellent understanding of the simulation content and knows how each simulation complements the academic material we cover at University. Having an advocate with that knowledge and experience is critical.”

5. Team collaboration

Gavin also reflected on the importance of team collaboration to help get new technology and pedagogy implemented into an entire course program. "Chris designed the assessment portfolio and integrated Labster within it. Chris emphasizes the importance of students engaging with the simulations. However, adoption really required input from a much broader team. Guidance from the University Technology Enhanced Learning Team and our faculty-based online course developers all ensured the integration was seamless and, where modules are shared across the School, that access is limited to the target student population.”

Future-Proofing Education

"Labster’s ever-expanding library of resources means there will be plenty of contemporary and engaging simulations to come and it will not be long before we consolidate our teaching with a much broader set of simulations."

For Gavin introducing Labster was part of a larger scheme to future proof the course. By offering more courses and lab practicals online, Gavin and the university have been able to expand the Biomedical Sciences program to include the apprenticeship. “There are so many ways of engaging students in our subjects, using technology to enhance our teaching and student learning is paramount. Labster’s ever-expanding library of resources means there will be plenty of contemporary and engaging simulations to come and it will not be long before we consolidate our teaching with a much broader set of simulations. We have already started to use Labster simulations as a replacement for some of our existing practicals. This year, our new apprentices will apply their knowledge of kinetics in the Labster simulation rather than in our own teaching labs as this element of this course is delivered by distance learning.”

This blog post was first published in 2019.

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