EDUKAN: Improving Student Access to Science Education with Virtual Labs

Jennifer Pfortmiller is a science instructor for EDUKAN, an online consortium of four community colleges in Kansas. After trying out a number of virtual lab providers, Labster was first integrated into her principles biology class in the fall semester of 2019. Since then, she has seen how the virtual labs make learning exciting for her class of ten students, seamless integration into her learning management system, and solidified Labster’s place in her curriculum for the foreseeable future.

The solution to outdated online education

Though virtual lab products were already used in EDUKAN’s biology classes, Pfortmiller and her colleagues found they were rarely updated and so regularly faced outdated content and technology. After hearing from a Labster representative and trying out some demo labs, they “took a leap of faith” and began using Labster in the summer semester.

Implementing the virtual labs into Canvas, their LMS, went smoothly, says Pfortmiller: “It worked like a champ. It was just so simple to integrate, simple to put into the course management system, and things worked far better than what we expected. We’ve used some other lab products and this one just is superior in my opinion.”

“With these labs, we’re able to help students wherever they’re at. The labs will follow them as well, wherever they go.”

Improving student access to high-quality labs was a priority for her, and Labster provided a seamless way for students to go through their lab work in their own time, no matter where they were. “Students are working on these labs on their own time – which is also really nice as we do have people in different time zones. Sometimes we’ll have students that are deployed and are on different sides of the globe, so with these labs, we’re able to help students wherever they’re at. The labs will follow them as well, wherever they go.”

Improving the learning (and teaching) experience

After trialing Labster over the fall semester, Pfortmiller found that her class excelled in their lab scores and were “a really strong class overall”. She also noted that her students seemed more excited to learn with the new virtual labs. 

“I had one student who was so excited about Labster that she would put aside all the other assignments and work through all of her lab assignments.”

In an informal evaluation, one student commented: “The labs were easy to use. I learned a lot and it made learning exciting.” Pfortmiller also highlighted another student who was particularly engaged with the new virtual labs: “I had one student who was so excited about Labster that she would put aside all the other assignments and work through all of her lab assignments. She was so excited about working through them, loved all the content, and would work for hours on the labs.”

From the teacher’s side, Pfortmiller highlighted Labster’s ease of use: “I was surprised at how easy it was as an instructor! In previous labs, there’d be so many tech support issues that I had to deal with. With Labster, I didn’t have any tech support issues at all.” 

With Labster’s teacher dashboard being able to track students’ progress and scores, she also commends the time-saving aspect of the platform: “It graded them, took care of a lot of things, answered a lot of questions – I was very pleased about that aspect of it. Also, it’s always fun to go through the labs and see what the students are doing as well.”

Fulfilling the needs of the modern-day classroom

For online programs like Pfortmiller’s at EDUKAN, virtual labs are essential to provide students the real lab experience. She explains, “Virtual labs are going to fulfill the need of seeing things that you can’t have in a regular lab, of course, with our class being completely online. It just makes a lot of sense to be able to work on them on your own time, plus not have to wait so long for the mice to reproduce, or whatever.”

“Being able to see processes, the order of steps that have to be done, and if you do a step out of order then you’re not going to get very far in the experiment. So that’s what’s really nice about Labster in my biology class – you presented them in a fun way that they could actually see how it would be applied in the real world or in any biology lab.”

“I would definitely recommend Labster to others!”

Overall, Pfortmiller says, “I would definitely recommend Labster to others! The creative way that the information is presented – it’s time-saving for the students and the instructor to cover the concepts; it’s easy to work with the company and the technology behind it has been implemented very seamlessly. There’s a lot of benefits and it’s a very economically priced product to give these students.”

Her positive experience solidified Labster’s place in Pfortmiller’s course, as she plans to continue to use the virtual labs in her biology class. She says, “The labs are being populated into our next set of semester courses and we really expect to stay with Labster. The fact that they’re leading in this kind of technology and provides a product that can be kept up to date is really exciting to see. We’ll use Labster with this biology class for the foreseeable future.”

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