Dr. Carmen Nußbaumer and her colleagues at Management Center Innsbruck (MCI) in Austria started using Labster as a part of their courses in the winter term of 2018. They had been looking for a solution that would make pre-lab training for their students possible and save the lecturers and students time in the preparation for face-to-face lab classes.
Dr. Nußbaumer teaches biotechnology. Her students work with cell culture techniques and use Labster’s simulations to practice these. We spoke to her about her motivations behind taking up a tool like Labster, how the implementation process went, and what results she and her colleagues have been seeing.
Getting started with Labster
Dr. Nußbaumer and her colleagues were first introduced to Labster in a preparatory meeting, where they could gain insight into the opportunities that Labster offers: “One of our colleagues organized a demo at our department with a Labster representative, who introduced us to Labster and gave a presentation on its features.”
From there, the process was quite simple and clear, she explained: “After the presentation of Labster at our department, we decided to implement the simulations in five of our courses for a group of 48 students.” On the whole, Labster has been used in five courses in the winter term 2018/19 (Biotechnology, Fermentation Technology, Food Engineering, Biotechnology Laboratory and Technical Microbiology) and in four courses in the summer term 2019 (Methods of Molecular Biology, Food Analytics, Biotechnology and Food Engineering, Bio- & Food chemistry).
As a part of the implementation, the students were introduced to Labster in a face-to-face session to ensure their engagement and understanding of the simulations: “We explained how it works and how the participation in the Labster simulations were going to be assessed. In this face-to-face session, we also guided the students through the registration process. The students were thereby enabled to play the simulations on their own from home.”
The flipped classroom
Since the initial implementation work, Dr. Nußbaumer has been using the simulations mostly in a flipped-classroom format; the students play the simulations from home, and when they come to the face-to-face session, they are prepared for additional learning on the topic. “This way, the students get more time to discuss the topics and further exercise what they’ve learned in a ‘live’ environment,” Dr. Nußbaumer said.
Dr. Nußbaumer and her colleagues have been using the simulations mostly as pre-lab exercises, but also as a tool for exam preparation. They give their students access to a selection of simulations to let them explore and learn independently. Some of the simulations are mandatory for the students to complete, while others are optional, but fully available to students wishing to, for example, use additional simulations for their exam preparations. “In this way,” Dr. Nußbaumer explained, “The students can complete the simulations within their own time, and they have as many tries as they want or need. This kind of repetition has had a positive effect on the students’ learning.”
Dr. Nußbaumer elaborated on why this format has worked so well in her course: “Labster combines two important components: theory and practice. So that’s why we use Labster as pre-lab training—to give a theoretical background and to introduce basic lab skills that are required for the successful accomplishment of the following practical course.”
Furthermore, Dr. Nußbaumer had found benefits of virtual labs not offered in a traditional lab format: “Practical courses always have limitations. For example, some experiments have long incubation times and therefore can’t be conducted due to time limits. In Labster’s simulations you can speed up time, making it possible to conduct experiments much faster. So students can easily perform complex and time-consuming experiments within minutes. Additionally, the theory and information available on the virtual labpad in each experiment, helps the students better understand complex methods and the experiments they’re performing.”
Benefits of virtual labs: storytelling and individual, practice-oriented and self-paced learning
Having used the simulations as a core part of her course for a while now, Dr. Nußbaumer reflected on how Labster has benefitted her and her students. She compared her thoughts to what she had expected of Labster before she started using the virtual labs: “I wanted to use a new innovative tool that would combine practical lab skills with simulations and give a basic introduction to cell culture techniques.” Dr. Nußbaumer said. “And Labster offers that.” She concluded. “Additionally, Labster offers a big selection of simulations on different topics in a very engaging format, using storytelling elements, which I’ve seen has increased motivation among my students.”
Dr. Nußbaumer highlighted these storytelling elements in Labster’s simulations as one of the main benefits: “Labster simulations are a very dynamic and efficient tool to motivate our students all the way through their learning process. Narrative aspects and interactivity in simulations involve the students emotionally and help them memorize the information more easily through establishing connections and cognitive structures in the form of different stories. The narrative elements also help connect a playful experience to the learning process, and thereby motivate the students intrinsically and contribute to the students’ positive learning experience.”
“Moreover,” Dr. Nußbaumer continued, “Labster’s simulations have given our students access to more individual, practice-oriented and self-paced learning. The format of simulations with integrated quizzes and theoretical resources allow students to use various learning techniques to achieve the learning goals. For these reasons, I would definitely recommend Labster to others!”
What do the students think?
From student surveys, it was clear that Dr. Nußbaumer’s students have been enjoying the simulations: “They say that it’s a good addition to conventional lectures, and that when it’s used as pre-lab training, it gives a better understanding and handling in the practical course. Despite us having a few technical issues with the occasional slow internet connection, we can say that our students are fully satisfied with this new learning experience and that they’d like to use this format more often in their courses.”
The future of education
On top of our many questions for Dr. Nußbaumer about using Labster, we asked her what she thought the biggest challenges on the horizon for science education are. Here she mentioned two things: “Authentic Learning Experiences is the first thing. Schools need to focus on contextualizing lesson plans in real-world scenarios. The second is the difficulty of keeping up with developments in educational technology. Educational establishments are unable to keep up for a number of reasons, including finances, digital illiteracy, lack of time, conservative views of education, etc. which I all see as prohibiting factors to positive growth.”
Dr. Nußbaumer then explained how she believed that Labster could potentially help meet those challenges. “To the first challenge, Labster provides the students with authentic and realistic learning experiences. It has high educational potential and provides benefits for our students, such as motivation, involvement, repetition, contextual learning, interactivity, inversion, peer collaboration and an open-ended approach to information. As a result, learning with Labster positively influences the learning process of our students and increases their chances for learning success.”
“To the second challenge,” Dr. Nußbaumer continued, “I must say that Labster managed to keep the learning environment as simple as possible and at the same time, as effective as possible. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.’ In my opinion, Labster has managed this task!”
Reach out to us to learn how you can get started with Labster and use simulations to engage your students with science.