Bridging science and technology at The Sapienza University of Rome

The Sapienza University of Rome

Bridging science and technology at The Sapienza University of Rome

The Sapienza University of Rome

Rodolfo Negri has been a professor of molecular biology at The Sapienza University of Rome since 2001. He teaches both molecular biology and functional genomics. Rodolfo is also the president of the Bachelor’s course in Bioinformatics - a brand new course at La Sapienza, established four years ago. Rodolfo first learned about Labster through his colleague. He used Labster in the past academic year in biology courses.

Read more about:

  • Why Labster is an important asset to bioinformatics students even in the post-pandemic world
  • How Labster enables students to perform experiments without the physical constraints of wet labs
  • How you can incorporate Labster in extra credit assignments and boost student engagement

“For bioinformatics, Labster is a really good solution on a continuous basis, even without the emergency of COVID-19.”

Rodolfo Negri

Professor of Molecular Biology

Challenge: Allowing students to experience hands-on lab training during COVID-19

Number of students: 42 students

Simulations used: Molecular Biology simulations

Bridging science and technology

Labster virtual simulations create a bridge between science and technology. This allows for a smoother introduction of scientific concepts to the bioinformatics students, who are already very well versed in the technological aspects of science. “I think that Labster was a good opportunity for the bioinformatics students because they are not very much used to wet lab and are more oriented towards the informatics activities. And so, this was a good initial attempt to involve them in the lab work,” said Rodolfo.

Not only Labster makes science more accessible for bioinformatics students, but it also enables the students to try and get a deeper understanding of some of the basics of biology. “The bioinformatics students value Labster because, as I said, they are very much oriented towards informatics. So only a small group dreams of doing actual biology. And they want to try it. Most of them are already convinced they’d like to work with data. With Labster they can try out the biology and understand the basics of it,” said Rodolfo. In regards to molecular biology students, “the groups work to produce data, and that’s very important too because they get the rationale of the real production of the data, the weak and strong points of experimental data. They can understand it better,” explained Rodolfo Negri.

Teaching science without physical limitations

By providing a lab experience without any physical limitations, Labster allows for more students to perform experiments at the same time. This, in turn, can lead to opening up science courses to more learners. “La Sapienza is a giant university because we have around 112 000 students. And there are many courses in biology, biotechnology and actually, most of the courses now have a limited number of students. So you have to pass a test to enter the course. And this is true also for bioinformatics. We take up to 50 students, but they have to pass a test to enroll. The number of students is limited because, in biology, it’s very important that you have access to a lab, and the strongest limitation is the number of positions we have in a wet lab. And this is a great issue. Labster can definitely help here and increase the number of students, especially for biotechnology,” added Negri. This was further escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where access to wet labs became even more limited and distance between students needed to be accounted for.

A similar scenario applies to teaching chemistry, which is a very lab-intensive course. “In chemistry courses, the labs are really crowded with people, and they do not have facilities for all the students, which should follow the training. So I think that Labster could serve as a relief for some of the teachers in biotechnology, not especially molecular biologists or genetics teachers, but more for chemistry. There are many students in the chemistry courses, and the students could gain some basic lab experience with Labster, which would reduce the duty of the real training,” added Rodolfo.

Extra credit and better student engagement

When asked about how he had used Labster in his teaching, Rodolfo Negri explained, “I chose for this year three virtual lab experiences and I asked all the students to go through them. I followed them with a virtual board, which I found very convenient because I could see what they were doing. First, I showed them all three pieces of training by doing myself with them so they could see how to approach them. Then, I told them they had three weeks to complete all three trials, and all of them could pass the cut-off. I choose the cut-off to be not so high, I think 80% or similar, just because I wanted them to learn the basics. And I considered these complementary to the theory exam by giving a bonus of two points to all the students who satisfactorily completed the trials. All of them got two extra points”, said Negri.

Knowing the importance of student engagement, Rodolfo Negri appreciates how well Labster simulations are developed, the high level of visual presentations of scientific concepts, and the real-life scenarios in each simulation. “I found Labster simulations to be very well done. I think the simulations are very well presented. They are. The students get engaged by doing it. And that’s very important because if they get bored, then you don’t go far away as a teacher. I think the graphics are also nice. And also, the application to a real-life scenario is great,” said Rodolfo.

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