As a professor teaching biochemistry to non-biochemist students in a lecture only course, Dr. Kambiz Hamadani, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University, was looking for a way to make his classes more engaging and easier to understand for his students.
He wanted to improve his teaching and increase student achievement of course learning outcomes by means of new and innovative teaching methods, and for that reason, he sought out Labster to see how he could integrate a few of the virtual lab simulations in his courses. He quickly found that the virtual labs helped his students understand the content better, and helped him overcome several barriers he was experiencing in his course:
“Labster helped open the doors to a more inquiry based style of presenting the content, because the students were exploring. They were walking around in a virtual lab, messing up, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. This is something that you typically can’t do all that well in a hands-on lab, where you have a fixed amount of time, fixed amount of resources, and safety concerns have to come into the equation.”
Read on to learn how Dr. Hamadani used Labster in his course, and how it helped him increase student achievement of course learning outcomes.
Before Dr. Hamadani tried Labster, there were three areas in particular that he believed could benefit from novel teaching methods:
In his General Biochemistry class, a lecture-only course offered to primarily non-biochemistry majors as a requirement, Dr. Hamadani found that he needed a way to increase engagement among his students. He wanted to not only make the difficult topics easier to learn, but also to find a way to increase general interest in the subject, and make the classes more exciting.
Dr. Hamadani tried to bring together the content that his students had previously learned in their undergraduate biology and chemistry classes in his General Biochemistry class, but since it is a one-semester course with a lot of content to cover, he found it difficult to cover all the relevant material. Dr. Hamadani tested the option of flipping the classroom, and although that did help to some extent, there still wasn’t enough time in the semester to cover everything.
Lack of application
Due to the lack of a lab section for General Biochemistry, the students got no hands-on experience, making it difficult for them to grasp complex methods, tools and concepts. This made the course a challenge to teach. Dr. Hamadani wanted to use Labster to give the students more of an applied feel for the techniques that were taught in his class, and teach them how the concepts they were learning could be applied.
How Labster helped
Dr. Hamadani started using Labster’s virtual labs, mainly Enzyme Kinetics, in his General Biochemistry class to help students get practical experience with concepts and techniques, which solidified their understanding of course content.
Dr. Hamadani didn’t see Labster as a solution for replacing textbooks, but instead as a supplement that could help students understand what they learned, and improve their skills in the lab:
“The power of Labster really was in allowing students to make all sorts of mistakes, which were necessary in order to really, truly learn how to do science and how to do these experiments. It’s inevitable that the students will make mistakes and it’s a great advantage to allow them to make those mistakes over and over again to really perfect their virtual skills.”
“The power of Labster really was in allowing students to make all sorts of mistakes, which were necessary in order to really, truly learn how to do science.”
To learn more about exactly what effect virtual labs had on his students’ learning outcomes, Dr. Hamadani assessed the students’ understanding of the topics taught in his class before, during and after using Labster. He compared the results to see if the virtual labs produced the results he was looking for, and came to some interesting conclusions:
“I found that questions that required high level thinking skills at the applied level were very much benefitted by students having access to Labster modules. So Labster essentially forced students to step out of their little box of the textbook or the course and really got them to apply the content knowledge in different ways, which ultimately solidified their understanding of the material.”
“So Labster essentially forced students to step out of their little box of the textbook or the course and really got them to apply the content knowledge in different ways.”
Watch this video from CSU to learn more about how Labster had a positive impact on students’ performance on applied content:
Giving his students the opportunity to work on their practical skills also had the advantage of preparing the students for potential careers as scientists.
“I think this application adds a great value, because this is ultimately what they’re going to be doing when they go out there in the real world. They’re not going to be asked test questions. They’re going to be asked questions like: “Go purify a protein” or “tell me what this small molecule does to this organism.” It’s very hard, even with traditional labs, to get students to think in those ways if you don’t have that open-ended, inquiry based lab. And Labster offers that in a very unique way.”
“It’s very hard, even with traditional labs, to get students to think in those ways if you don’t have that open-ended, inquiry based lab. And Labster offers that in a very unique way.”
Another element Dr. Hamadani studied was his students’ intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy in learning biochemistry. He found that for students using labster, there was a small decrease in the perception that biochemistry is boring, and students perceived classes as more fun due to the use of the virtual labs.
Overall, Dr. Hamadani found that Labster’s virtual labs gave his students a sense of what it’s like to work in a real lab, as well as giving them insight into what science can be used for in ‘the real world’. The gamified elements of the labs combined with the embedded theory pages and assessments solidified the students’ knowledge and increase their understanding of difficult topics.
To learn more about how you can achieve similar results with your students, or to learn how Labster can be implemented in your science classes, please read more on our Labster for Educators page, and fill out this form on the page to be contacted by a Labster representative.