Answering Your FAQs: Labster for High School - The Labster Podcast Episode 9
April [00:00:04] Hey, everyone, I'm April. And you're listening to The Labster Podcast, I'm proud to say that at Labster we are guided by our mission to empower the next generation of scientists to change the world and contribute to solving global challenges. And if you are an educator listening to this podcast, we know you also share that mission. So thank you.
April [00:00:25] With me, as always, is my friend and fellow Labsterite SJ Boulton, an educational designer and former university lecturer who now develops Labster virtual lab simulations for high school, college and university.
April [00:00:43] In this episode, we'll be talking about teaching high school students courses with Labster virtual labs. High school educators have their own unique set of needs and expectations for their course materials. We'll get to meet a special guest who will help us speak to some of those by answering the most frequently asked questions she hears from high school teachers. So let's get started.
April [00:01:07] Today, we are joined by Carlin Robinson, one of Labster's own internal champions and account executives. Carlin estimates that she has played a role in giving one hundred and twenty five thousand students access to education in her career and with nearly two million high school students in the United States. She is not slowing down any time soon. Outside of a foray into graduate school, Carlin has never really left her career in the education space. As a lifelong learner, Carlin is all in on the use of technology and teaching, since the skills students learn can often lead to lifelong interests. Welcome to the podcast Carlin.
Carlin [00:01:47] Hey April. Hi SJ. Glad to be here.
April [00:01:50] Cool to have you. So, Carlin, let's get started.
April [00:01:53] You have recently transitioned in your role here at Labster from working in the higher ed space to working with high school educators. So tell us a little bit about why you decided to make that change and what your new role is like.
Carlin [00:02:07] Thank you. So I made the change from several years and higher education to high school, really because of the current situation we're happening in our world. For me, the high school age is the perfect time for students to start growing an interest in some solutions that can help us through things like this in the future. Teaching high school students STEM skills specifically, I think is a gateway to lifelong learning. And what I took on this role with the high school team, I feel real responsibility for getting the word out there to high school students that science and STEM education is a great way to secure a bright, bright future.
April [00:02:55] That is amazing. But I know that from talking to you in the past, one of the kind of things you hear when you're talking with high school educators on a daily basis is the idea that isn't high school too early to start introducing Virtual labs?
Carlin [00:03:11] We hear that a lot. And it's one of those things where I really feel it's just an assessment of how you look at virtual labs also how you look at the mind and curiosity of students while they're at the high school age.
SJ [00:03:29] Completely agree. We've spoken previously on the podcast with educators that have looked at virtual labs as a tool to increase participation or to give early experiences that might allow students that don't have any other way to interact with in-lab training to see themselves as scientists and kind of raise a little bit of aspiration towards further study or even just to commit fully to the courses that they're doing at the high school level.
Carlin [00:03:57] Right, right. There's also the talk of we talk about this on my team a lot in leveling the playing field. Right. So you shouldn't be prevented from participating or having access to scientific training. So by providing this virtual environment where students can can actually learn these skills from wherever they are, I don't think there's any time to early to prepare students for that kind of learning environment.
SJ [00:04:26] No. And I suppose it offers a way for students to, I think, around the topic that they're learning. So say, for example, if the student has to go and develop a set of manual skills, it can be really tricky if you have to on the first time you enter a lab, if you have to manage your protocol, interact with your partner, see what's on your bench, and kind of navigate that whole environment of being in a lab for the first time, like truly having an opportunity to get familiar with the processes and protocols of science before you ever have to actually interact with it. With your physical person would be a really cool way to become comfortable or to develop a little bit of confidence and ownership over the tasks that you're actually doing. I mean, yeah.
SJ [00:05:14] At high school, there's a lot going on. And anything we can do to kind of help the students feel more comfortable in that space, to me, seems like a really valid and useful opportunity.
April [00:05:25] I love hearing about those opportunities, but I know again that sometimes the hesitation we hear is that students in high school are really still working on fundamental concepts. They don't need, you know, cutting edge advanced techniques at this point in their. How would you respond to that?
SJ [00:05:44] I mean, for me, as a an ex simulation producer, simulation director, before we ever start coding a new lab or start building, we know where our knowledge based or concept based learning objectives are and what our skill or practical based learning objectives are. And they are so clearly identified and thought out and planned before we ever really start thinking about the storylines or the techniques that we're going to use in our simulated experiences.
SJ [00:06:14] So for me, to a degree, it's a bit of a no brainer when we're making a laboratory technique accessible in a virtual lab because there's a process and there are fail states states associated with that technique. But when it's a knowledge-based concept, so say, for example, at the minute we've got a maybe a simulation coming soon on stereochemistry, this is a concept that is it's incredibly abstract. And it would be like, well, why bother using a virtual lab for that?
SJ [00:06:40] Because we have a really unique ... we're in a very unique position to visualize or create interactions around those abstract concepts to help students kind of break through the threshold concepts that are so hard to break and have their own lightbulb moments. So to me, virtual labs are an excellent vehicle for addressing those knowledge-based learning objectives.
Carlin [00:07:05] Sure. And I often will flip that question back respectfully. What's wrong with having or knowing cutting edge techniques as a high school senior or in the US as a high school junior planning on going, if you're looking at your future, what's wrong with knowing cutting edge advanced techniques? I don't know why sometimes that presents a barrier. I know that there are. I know the pedagogical and I know the budget reasons why.
Carlin [00:07:32] But if you have a tool like a simulation like Labster that can bring that to you and you avoid those two big areas of budget and in pedagogy, what's wrong with knowing those cutting edge techniques by the time you graduate high school? That's how I flip it back.
SJ [00:07:49] Sure. I would also say that maybe it's not even necessarily about cutting edge techniques or advanced techniques, that it's about the the scenario that the knowledge is applied to. So say, for example, in some of our simulations, we have quite high level storylines that surround some basic lab techniques. And one that comes to mind is the prenatal testing that's in one of our simulations around blood typing. So blood type is pretty straightforward, but the story that's around that is actually quite high context. But nonetheless, it does provide this kind of real world experience. We don't know what students are experiencing at home or what their experiences have been in some to date around science and seeing how they're learning at a high school level might apply to a more advanced disciplines or to a different research area. It might be the thing that triggers them to have that aspiration and to seek out or to investigate education at a higher level.
April [00:08:45] Yeah, absolutely. And I know Labster also has, you know, sort of dialed in specific learnings that are ideal for high school, isn't that right?
Carlin [00:08:56] Yes. So we have some great alignment. We align with NGSS, AP and IB as well. So we do address some of these some of the higher level concepts already. We are unique in our alignment. So this is a great, great option for teachers really like to see that. But absolutely, we are there to support in line with some of those curriculum demands.
April [00:09:26] A lot of instructors we've spoken with over the last year have been thinking about, you know, remote learning or using Labster, virtual labs for students who are learning at home. But what about when we're back face-to-face? How would you answer the question? Well, why do I use this simulation when I have access to the physical lab again?
Carlin [00:09:48] So there's a little misconception here that that the simulation experience, I think, isn't necessarily real. And I'm going to let SJ speak to obviously the instructional side of this to me when I hear this. A.J., please leave me down the right path. I feel like I've done a poor job explaining to that teacher that this this is not an alternative. This doesn't make their job extinct. But this definitely plays a great hybrid or or partnership role with the physical lab plans you have for your career.
Carlin [00:10:25] So SJ, tell me what I'm doing wrong when I'm talking to these teachers and they still say, no, it's not real, tell me.
SJ [00:10:34] It's so frustrating, isn't it? Carlin you are doing a fantastic job. You should not be so down on yourself. It makes me sad too. I think that educators feel like virtual labs are trying to replace them, because that's definitely not the intention. But what I am aware of both in the higher education space and in the high school space is, you know ...
SJ [00:10:53] Class sizes are getting larger, teachers are stretched. They have a lot more planning to do. They have a lot more a lot more to do in order to provide learning experiences for their students. And let's be honest, nobody likes marking. I hate marking. So for me, I see the virtual lab as a tool that can help me optimize the way that I deliver my teaching.
[00:11:16] To give an example from my own teaching, when I used to teach practical labs, I would have 400 students that I had to put through a practical experience they would do two labs each and I would repeat that four times. So I was in the lab for eight sessions, four of which which was repeated essentially four times. And that's all well and good. But even though I had a full team of demonstrators, those are student teachers, to help me give the students a good experience and to troubleshoot with them, I would have liked to have allowed the students to have an experience where they could come into the physical lab prepared and knowing what they were doing and feeling confident. And the only thing I had to give them at the time was a was a handout and some lecture slides on how that how that protocol worked or how this situation worked.
SJ [00:12:00] So, to me, having a virtual lab where a student can think about the protocol that they're going to do, they can do it, they can get it wrong. They can make the wrong concentration of buffer or they can do the protocol in the wrong order or mix up the tubes or whatever, having those experiences outside the lab. So when they come in, they are feeling, 'I know what I'm doing. When I stand at this lab bench and I pick up my pipette, I know what I'm doing.' That's a massive positive to me. And that cuts down the amount of pressure on me to provide that in-person training because it's already done. It's already verified. I can be confident that I'm not going to have to, you know, deal with a student who's flicked a tip into somebody else's eye, or something like that, because they've done their safety.
SJ [00:12:43] They've had some experience of how to conduct themselves in a lab through a virtual environment. And there's always going to be the odd student that doesn't do it. But they've already had that experience. So to me, virtual labs could offer that that little helping hand in ensuring that students are getting the preparation or the preliminary knowledge that they need in order to make the most of those more expensive or time consuming or difficult to give experiences like being in a wet lab.
Carlin [00:13:13] We have research that shows exactly what SJ is saying, that this combination, this partnership, where you have a pre lab and post lab teaching resources. So we know that the partnership, they're the working together. That is truly what is my intention is what I'm speaking to that teacher. SJ you said, I don't want teachers to think the simulations are going to eliminate their jobs. I don't either. We need people. We need human interaction. Still, we've not given up on that. But why not use something so simple to prepare your students with such great assessment increases? That's certainly something that I'll all that. I'll take all of that with me moving forward. SJ, I really appreciate that.
SJ [00:14:04] I'm glad to be useful.
April [00:14:06] Well, and I know that we have talked about the increases in student performance when Labster is used as a pre lab, but I think there is also some opportunity to use it as a consolidating activity, isn't that right?
SJ [00:14:21] I would feel so definitely lots of the simulations that we make of different utilities. So we have very short experiences that are like ten minutes long and they focus on a single one or two learning objectives to really hammer home the use of a piece of equipment. So say, for example, our basic light microscopy simulation that really goes in depth on just how to use a light microscope in a generic context. But then on the flip side, you know, those longer simulations, for example, Parkinson's Disease or Enzyme Kinetics, where we're looking at the tools and techniques that are used both in the diagnosis of a disease. So that one's about column chromatography and size exclusion chromatography. Enzyme Kinetics is a simulation where students can play with the parameters of a kinetic enzymatic reaction. So like substrate concentration, enzyme concentration, temperature pH, to see how the kinetics of a reaction changes based on what they're doing in their tube.
SJ [00:15:20] Now, if we were to do that in a lab with students, you know, it's going to get messy and it's going to get expensive. And there's nothing wrong with mess. Like I'm all down for making a ton of buffers. But you could argue it might be wasteful if the students don't get the intended learning experience at the end of it, if they don't satisfy the objectives that you're intending to to satisfy with the wet lab. So here's an opportunity to play, and if you've already been told about the effect of your temperature in early stage and then they've learned about kinetics at a middle stage of their course, you can use the simulation like Enzyme Kinetics as a consolidation or capstone experience that really ties together some of the the learning throughout the course and the one one almost like revision or capstone learning activity. So, yeah, you could use them both ways.
April [00:16:10] So I know that one of the kind of objections to educational technologies in general and not just to virtual labs, but comes from individual educators who might feel that the traditional ways are better for learning and that using, you know, the old fashioned but still useful tools of a simple calculator, a paper, a pencil were all they needed to learn and are still the best tools today. I mean, how do you respond Carlin to someone who has that sort of perspective?
Carlin [00:16:47] When we do have when we do have teachers talk about traditional methods, pencils, paper, calculators, here's the internal conflict that develops inside of me. And it's the it's also part of the responsibility I feel towards getting the right technology in students hands. I don't deny that calculators and pencils and paper play a role in science. I don't think it's exclusive.
Carlin [00:17:12] I also don't know that that set students up for lifelong learning. By that, I mean, the world is moving further and further away from pencil and paper. Look how we order food today. Look how we - I just got notification. I'm working remotely. I'm always working remotely, but I'm working far away remotely next week and I just got notification from my hotel. I don't ever have to go up to the front desk. Right. So the world is shifting. It's not just because of Covid. You could say that this is a technology-driven world.
Carlin [00:17:45] So my immediate concern when I hear that from teachers is man oh man, the world is just not set up that way. It's not moving that way. How do I help this teacher and how do I help this teacher put the right technology in their students hands to help them advance, to help them be successful in the changing world?
Carlin [00:18:06] So SJ, I don't know how that affects somebody who, you know, faces a totally different set of dilemmas than I do, but what do you think about that? Like I said, I think pencils and paper, all that there's a place is obviously in science for that. I worry about the real-world ramifications basically.
SJ [00:18:25] People like to teach in the way that they were taught. It's something that they're comfortable with. And if an educator is developed a set of methodologies that deliver the learning objectives in an effective way, then it's going to be really hard to shift them away from those methodologies, regardless of how long they've been teaching on a particular course or just over that career.
SJ [00:18:46] So to me, I do wonder if there's a mismatch between a student's expectations of how they want to be taught, not necessarily how they're going to be talked about, how they want to be taught, and their educator's desire of how they wish to deliver teaching. And from a personal perspective, those papers and research on that mismatch. I don't think we have enough time to really dive into it right now. But I would acknowledge it and maybe hypothesize that the fact that we're in a Covid world at the moment has meant that these people that have got or these educators that have got very well-established methodologies have been forced to pivot. And that must be really uncomfortable. If you've got something that you feel works or has been demonstrated as being effective.
SJ [00:19:29] The virtual labs to me offer a kind of helping hand because they're a ready pack. That's something that doesn't take too much implementation outside of putting it into your course and maybe put in some simple activities around it. So depending on how deeply you want to embed the virtual lab within your curriculum, that's up to you. But it could offer like a segue into digital teaching that maybe other methods might not offer.
SJ [00:19:58] But that's going to be a deeply personal decision for the educator. There's probably a longitudinal element here as well when it comes to courses that are more general, certainly in higher ed, maybe in high school, too. But the general bio and general chemistry courses for students that aren't necessarily going to go into any further bio major education, they often have little to no lab component. So if they're not looking to deliver the manual dexterity training that is required of a more deep biological or chemical based education, then I don't really see the harm in using virtual labs as a way to deliver that training because there's no manual requirement.
April [00:20:44] How about the the way that Labster virtual labs are gamified, I know that something that you and I spoke about, I think in our third episode. It's a different way of learning, isn't it?
SJ [00:20:56] It is. And I think it comes back to, you know, I can explain something to someone and they won't get it, but somebody else explains in a different way and suddenly it just clicks for them and offering a different explanation type or different engagement style that might make that light bulb moment happen for a student, I think is a really positive thing. And games-based approaches offer a really unique, highly interactive, very stimulating way of actually engage in a student with a topic. So if it works for them, that's great. There are likely to be students that just don't get it or don't feel it. That's fine, too. But certainly there is a there's an expectation that a digital technology should be able to be a real critical experience.
SJ [00:21:40] So seeing how things break, seeing how things don't work, as well as just going through the process like a recipe, so that's our game-based philosophy of developing our virtual simulations, I feel kind of satisfies that pretty well. And we're developing on that all the time. And we've got a whole host of new game designers starting to help us with our future content. And I think that's going to just enrich the depth of experience that a student can have in our future simulations and really see like what the fail points of a lab technique? Or what happens when I, how can I manipulate this concept in such a way that I bend the laws of physics or I change the metabolic pathway of the cell? I don't know. But things like that, those game-based techniques really help us see how a mechanic truly works by playing with it and seeing how to break it and seeing what if I did something differently and inspiring their curiosity along the way. It's only I can only have benefit towards building scientific capital and aspiration within the STEM field.
Carlin [00:22:41] And if I could just add in SJ that the work that you all are doing with gamification is a really great story for us to tell on our end. I can tell you when I do my feedback calls or so forth, I often get to start them with, 'so how did your students like interacting with a bear?' Because they just did the cell structure. You know, when's the last time you students could go out on the playground and see a fox and an eagle and get samples from all of these, you know, can you do that in your classroom? And it sounds simple, SJ, but you're right. Those storylines? Students remember them. They engage, they ask about the bear a week later, but they're doing it. It's really, really, really right on. You wear several different hats.
April [00:23:29] That's such a great idea. And I wish it wasn't, but our time is starting to come to an end. But I have one more question I want to make sure we get in. And it's a question that I think Carlin gets asked a lot. So Carlin, why don't you let us know this important last question?
Carlin [00:23:47] We get asked quite frequently, 'I don't want to have to learn a new digital tool. How much time does it take to make lesson plans that include Labster virtual labs'.
SJ [00:24:01] I feel this so much. You know, our simulations now every sim comes to the lab manual that explains what's going on, give us a little bit of theory, gives the learning objectives and discusses the concepts and techniques used within the lab. So taking a look at that manual can be an absolute saving grace to see and how it fits within your existing curriculum. And it might just be creating a group session beforehand or afterwards with the Labster simulation in the middle. But seeing it can support your curriculum or support an individual learning session within a syllabus can usually be done by looking at the lab manual and the videos are there too, the screencasts and the Faculty Resources Page can be looked at too to get some insight on particular areas if you struggling to conceptualize or visualize what it looks like just from the lab manual. So I would totally recommend educators just to to look there because I think it would make it much easier for them than just playing the simulation alone and haven't materialized while looking at the stuff around it just from playing the sim.
Carlin [00:25:07] I am happy to help teachers map out their course. Meaning, send us your course maps. We'll help faculty and teachers find those simulations, by course mapping for them. We'll do it for you. And we do a really thorough job of it. SJ, I know that you left your mark on several schools very early in my career at Labster with helping them out.
SJ [00:25:31] So that's really humbling to hear. Thank you.
Carlin [00:25:35] But I look at it this way. I look at it this way. I don't want this to be an overwhelming stressor for faculty. This is science. This is something that I feel personal about, I want more students to be interested, so if there's a role I can play in helping a teacher implement Labster in their course, I'm absolutely going to do that. So please, I think, I think we all should be helping out a little bit more there if we can. We really can do the majority of the heavy lifting for teachers who are going to be using a simulation for the first time - seamless, turnkey, that is ultimately the experience that I look for when I work with teachers.
April [00:26:15] I love working with you guys today and being able to get together and have this podcast conversation. And I just want to say thank you so much to our special guest, Carlin. As we wrap up, I also just want to thank our listeners and we hope, Carlin, SJ and I, we hope we answered some of your most pressing questions about using virtual labs in high school science courses. But naturally, we know you'll have your own questions, and so we invite you to reach out and talk with us at Labster dot com slash talk hyphen with hyphen us. That's all for us. Thank you very much. And talk to you soon.
April [00:26:55] Thanks for listening. If you like this episode, we hope you'll share it with a fellow teacher and subscribe to The Labster Podcast. Until next time, keep teaching, keep learning and stay safe.