Dr. Samantha Lee from Singapore Polytechnic incorporated virtual labs into her modules to enhance her students’ engagement and self-directed learning competencies in her courses, Diploma in Biomedical Sciences and Diploma in Biotechnology. Labster interviewed her to understand how it has been to implement virtual labs, in both desktop and VR formats, and what results she has achieved for her and her students.
On a high level, after using virtual labs as a teaching tool, her students perceived immunology (one of the topics she used Labster to teach) to be less challenging and they found it easier to grasp difficult concepts of immunology. Dr. Lee highlighted the following four benefits of using virtual labs:
- Mastery of skills & techniques and resource optimization: Lecturers make better efficient use of face-to-face time to identify learning gaps and focus on building student competency.
- Opportunity to learn from failure and repeatability: The students could revisit course material if in doubt on the labpad, promoting a growth mindset in self-directed learning.
- Efficient and effective learning: Students could see demonstrations clearly without the need to crowd around the demonstrator, allowing the possibility of catering to larger classes.
- Interactive learning: Students were engaged through VR elements and gamification, enhancing their intrinsic motivation to learn.
Read on to learn how Dr. Lee achieved the above results.
The search for a VR learning tool
Dr. Lee was facing challenges regarding costs, safety and time before implementing Labster. “Our equipment is expensive,” she explained, “for example, I’m teaching a course in confocal microscopy. The cost of one confocal microscope is high. In addition to that, it involves the use of lasers, which can be hazardous if not handled properly.” Furthermore, her students had expressed that they wanted more time to operate the equipment during experimental waiting time. This led Dr. Lee to research VR learning opportunities.
The uses of VR in Singapore are plenty; VR is seen in commercial, entertainment and educational contexts. Dr. Lee wanted to leverage VR in her teaching, and to see how it could benefit her students.
Introducing the virtual labs in her class meant that Dr. Lee’s students could now get familiarized with operating the confocal microscope while waiting. “In the Confocal Microscopy simulation, the student can follow each step of the operation in a risk-free virtual environment. If they fail, they can go back and attempt to review the operation process again. By performing the experiments in the VR lab, this experience equips our students not only with the knowledge but more importantly, the skills and competencies to complete procedures, which is fundamentally different from what E-books and textbooks can offer.” At the same time Dr. Lee’s students were highly engaged because of the elements of gamification: “They think these simulations are cool and different from the conventional pedagogical methods that they are usually exposed to.”
“These purposefully-crafted questions require the students to apply the newly acquired knowledge and think critically before progressing to the next step of the simulation.”
“Labster’s simulations are interactive and interspersed with higher-order thinking questions,” Dr. Lee continued, “these purposefully-crafted questions require the students to apply the newly acquired knowledge and think critically before progressing to the next step of the simulation. The ability to critically analyse questions and then perform decision-making are competencies which we value very much in Singapore’s educational system.”
From desktop to VR simulations
Having used Labster’s desktop simulations for a while, Dr. Lee felt comfortable with trying out the VR headsets with her students as well:
“I wanted to try something novel. For now, we only have two headsets, which has its limitations. Logistically, it is challenging for all 20 students to complete the VR simulation in one practical session, so I championed a VR Experiential Term by coordinating with the library to work out a rotation schedule for the students to utilize the VR headsets.” Dr. Lee said, and mentioned that the school has plans to expand their use of VR: “VR simulations has enhanced knowledge and skillsets retention among learners. Moving on, we’re even looking at setting aside a designated space as the VR lab within our school.”
Positive student feedback and results
The results that Dr Lee achieved and the feedback from her students, were positive:
“My students have performed better in their examinations compared to the previous semester. In fact, their average score has increased by approximately one to two grades. The adoption of VR technology into the modules has enhanced students’ intrinsic motivation to do better in challenging modules such as Immunology and Confocal Microscopy. VR has essentially enabled students to step away from their textbooks and apply knowledge directly in the ‘real world’.”
“My students have performed better in their examinations compared to the previous semester. In fact, their average score has increased by approximately one to two grades.”
The future of education
Last, we talked to Dr. Lee about where she thought the field of education is headed, and what role technology will play in that. To this she said: “The biggest challenge is to constantly pique the curiosity of our learners, who are embedded in a technologically advanced world where information and knowledge is just a click away.”
When asked how she thought Labster fit into the equation, and how virtual labs could potentially help meet that challenge, she explained: “I think VR simulations provide a realistic and inquiry-based learning style that encourage deep learning and, at the same time, equips students with the necessary skills for the real world. Simulations also offer learners the freedom to make independent decisions and give them a multi-modal experience, thereby enhancing the students’ knowledge retention and empowering them with learner’s autonomy.”