Labster Engages Students Both In-Person and Online

Imperial Valley College

Labster Engages Students Both In-Person and Online

Imperial Valley College

Dr. Jia Sun has taught using Labster for three years as an Associate Professor of Biology at Imperial Valley College, where most biology students learn in person, and at San Diego State University where he is an adjunct instructor and his students are online. Based on his personal experience with both course delivery formats, he believes that Labster provides an engaging method for teaching complex concepts and laboratory skills.

Key Takeaways:

  • Starting and ending the semester with Labster simulations keeps students engaged in person and online, in both synchronous and asynchronous course formats
  • Labster is interactive and visual, making it an effective tool for teaching complex concepts
  • Getting students to talk and help each other through Labster enhances the learning experience

I think Labster’s really powerful for teaching processes that are otherwise hard to demonstrate and conceptually cumbersome to explain to students.

Jia Sun, PhD

Associate Professor of Biology

Engaging Students with Labster at the Start and End of the Semester

I have utilized Labster in various course formats, employing both asynchronous and synchronous methods. Whether facilitating online courses or conducting in-person sessions where students engage directly with the simulations, Labster consistently provides a unique avenue for learning.

At the start of an in-person lab semester, students experience a sense of discovery as they put on gloves and handle test tubes with excitement. After a few weeks of these introductory labs, I introduce dissection, elevating the level of excitement as students delve into “real” anatomy and physiology. 

Towards the end of the semester, I incorporate Labster simulations that feature elaborate storylines such as space exploration. I find that some students approach these simulations as a game, finding excitement in the immersive experience, while others are drawn to the roles they assume within the simulation, such as initiating a colony on a different planet. This aspect taps into diverse perspectives and enriches the overall lab experience throughout the semester. In essence, Labster enhances the entire learning journey.

Helping Students Visualize Concepts with Labster

I teach a lot of introductory biology courses, and the majority of the students that I interact with are non-majors looking to fulfill a lab requirement, they are typically not biology or even science majors. So, my students range from people who’ve never taken a science class and probably never will again, to people who are just figuring out if this is what they want to pursue as a career. For both groups,  I think Labster’s really powerful for teaching processes that are otherwise hard to demonstrate and conceptually cumbersome to explain to students.

For example, I’ve tried a bunch of ways to teach community processes and competition, but they were always clumsy — you would have students seeding corn at the start of the semester without really understanding why they were doing it. In Labster, they can tweak different parameters and see instantaneously how that changes the outcome of the competition experiment.

Instead of thinking about a Labster sim as an assignment, students often see it as a game. Typically, I provide two attempts for each simulation and the highest grade is kept. A few semesters ago, I had one student who would always complete the second attempt just to see if he could beat his score. I think it's a drive they learn from playing video games that pushes them to get the perfect score on Labster.

Encouraging “Lab Partners” 

I believe collaborative group work is essential with Labster, and it holds the same importance as working with laboratory partners in the traditional laboratory setting. When working with student groups using Labster, I actively encourage student groups to engage in discussion on questions they have about the simulation, to push them to discover the answers themselves. At the start of the semester, I often have to remind students to review the theory associated with the lab sim, but as the semester progresses, I will often hear students tell each other to “Just look at the theory.” So once they get the hang of how a Labster simulation works, they’re able to communicate to help each other and go through the sims independently, similar to how they work in the traditional laboratory setting.

Commonly Used Simulations:

  • Competition: Learn to identify and quantify competition between species  
  • Biomes: Identify and create the main biomes on Earth 
  • Ecological niches: Choose the right Kuppelfang to bring to Earth! 
  • Food webs: Learn about interactions between trophic levels  
  • Trophic Levels: Grazer vs. predator  
  • Introduction to Food Macromolecules

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