Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Preparing Students for Laboratories with Virtual Simulations

Francisco Llull Kerrigan is a teacher’s assistant at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile. In Francisco’s experience, Labster has always been a part of the curriculum for Biotechnology. As a student three years ago, Francisco used Labster in the Fundamentals of Biotechnology course and now as a teaching assistant, he is using Labster to help prepare students for the laboratory. From his unique perspective as a former student who uses Labster and a current teaching assistant utilizing Labster in classes, Francisco highlights the three major benefits of using virtual labs in science education.

Virtual Laboratories as an Introduction to Labs

The Fundamentals of Biotechnology course is an introductory course to the specialty of biotechnology for second-year students. Labster was introduced as a way to give students exposure to a laboratory and cut down on time spent on experiments. As Francisco explains, “Students don’t necessarily have lab experience at this point. For some students, this may be their first introduction to the lab.”

Francisco oversees the students as they complete the simulation in class. This gives Francisco the time to answer questions and help students as they learn about Labster. He also focuses on connecting the content to the simulations, “as a student assistant, I really try to connect the exercise in class with Labster”.

Reinforcing lab skills and improving student preparation

When it comes to preparing students for laboratories, Labster can offer a safe environment for students to learn about equipment and can also allow students to do more with limited time. As Francisco puts it, “When the students use Labster there are normally two different reactions. The first is students that are very happy with the experience of using Labster. They find it’s better for them to do the experiments virtually. What takes many hours in the lab, the students can accomplish the same thing in one hour on the computer. But of course, there are a few students that feel it is not a real laboratory. However, in my experience, I was first a user of Labster before I went to work in a biotechnology lab for research. I found it was very useful to use Labster before the real laboratory. By the time I walked into the physical laboratory, it felt like I had done it all before.”

“I was first a user of Labster before I went to work in a biotechnology lab for research. I found it was very useful to use Labster before the real laboratory. By the time I walked into the physical laboratory, it felt like I had done it all before”

For students new to laboratories, Labster’s simulations and missions can ensure that students acquire the training and motor skills required for physical labs. For Francisco as a student, “the most important thing I can recall from using Labster as a student is that Labster doesn’t let you do things without learning the previous steps. For example, when using the pipette you need to put it on a new tip every time. That is something that is so easy to forget in a laboratory.”

Helping students achieve a comprehensive understanding of scientific concepts

The wide range of virtual labs on offer from Labster help provide students a comprehensive overview of the subjects professors and teacher assistants are teaching. “I think it’s a great tool that can help students learn more about the different courses that they are taking,” he explains. “In our case, at least five of the six Labster simulations we do are related to different subject matters within the course.”

“Labster helped them to better understand the theory because it’s more visual. This is the generation where it’s normal for students to learn with visuals and use a lot of technology devices instead of reading.”

He also attributes Labster’s success in his classes to the immersive and engaging visuals that are integral to the simulations’ development. For Francisco, complementing theory with supporting visualizations is one way to keep his students’ attention: “Some students state that after their exams, Labster helped them to better understand the theory because it’s more visual. This is the generation where it’s normal for students to learn with visuals and use a lot of technology devices instead of reading.”

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