Dr. Joel Yager Humphrey works as Professor of Biology at Cayuga Community College in New York. She first heard about Labster at a Technology Conference hosted by a SUNY school in early 2016 and started using Labster’s virtual labs for the first time during the fall 2016 semester. Since then she has been using these simulations in the same course every semester.
We spoke with Joel to learn about her motivations behind using virtual labs, and what role she thinks technology plays in education:
“Since I began my career in higher education, I have witnessed a paradigmatic shift towards technology-based education environments. I believe this trend will continue, and virtual laboratory platforms will continue to make significant contributions to content delivery in the education sector as software technologies advance. Virtual laboratory simulation programs to supplement or supplant traditional lab environments must foster learning and provide opportunities for mastering experimental methodologies that closely simulate real-world applications – and I have found Labster to meet these needs.”
Formative and summative assessments in Dr. Humphrey’s courses have provided overwhelmingly positive evidence that supports the continued use of Labster to enhance understanding and laboratory skills.
Read on to learn how Dr. Humphrey has used Labster, and find out what great outcomes and results she has seen.
Finding the best virtual lab provider
Before Dr. Humphrey was introduced to Labster, she found it quite difficult to find a tool that would meet her expectations and educational needs: “Finding relevant and engaging virtual lab simulations for online biology courses has been a challenge especially for upper-level courses, such as Genetics and Cell and Molecular Biology, where the lab activities must not only be meaningful and provide opportunities for students to develop operational and procedural skills, but also promote conceptual understanding while simultaneously challenging students with activities that have the appropriate level of rigor.”
When Dr. Humphrey first heard about Labster at a conference, she reached out to our team and signed up for a webinar to learn more. From there, she was set up with a pilot and could begin exploring the virtual labs.
Virtual labs as a key part of the course
Today, Dr. Humphrey uses Labster in her 4-credit Genetics course, and she is currently in the process of incorporating it into her 4-credit Cell and Molecular Biology course. She has integrated the tool as an asynchronous online course that uses Blackboard as the online learning platform.
The virtual labs are used in several ways in her course: “I utilize the Labster simulations for varied purposes depending on the topic we are covering. In some cases, a simulation (or multiple simulations) is the primary laboratory activity students are required to complete to meet learning outcomes, and in other cases, the simulations serve as a pre-lab exercise to introduce procedural skills and content,” Dr. Humphrey explained.
Overcoming cost and time constraints with virtual labs
The main goal for Dr. Humphrey to use Labster has been to enhance conceptual understanding and acquisition of operational and procedural skills. She shared how the virtual labs provide her and her students with learning opportunities that are not otherwise possible:
“I teach at a small community college with a budget that does not always accommodate the purchase and maintenance of big-ticket equipment items. One of the greatest strengths of utilizing Labster in my courses is that it allows students to learn how this equipment works and how to analyze output data that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to explore in a traditional lab setting.”
In addition, the virtual labs allow her to offer her students unlimited time to learn at their own pace and practice their skills: “Aside from budgetary constraints, temporal constraints often hinder repeatability, which is sometimes necessary for a meaningful understanding of the process and skill acquisition. With online simulations, students are able to repeat the entire portions of the lab,” Dr. Humphrey explained.
Outstanding customer service
To many faculty members, taking on new technology and integrating it into a course in a time-efficient and purposeful manner can seem quite daunting. But to Dr. Humphrey, it wasn’t the rough start that many might fear. In fact, it was quite the opposite:
“I have not had any major issues implementing Labster into my courses, as the process is relatively smooth on both my and the students’ ends. What has been most impressive about the implementation process is the outstanding customer support I received,” she said.
“I have had experiences with other companies where it took days or even a week to respond to my inquiries, whether via phone or email – which is obviously unacceptable because software glitches and user issues directly impact student learning, and even slight communication delays can be disruptive to the learning environment. Therefore, prompt and courteous responses are critically important, not only from a technological standpoint but from a customer service perspective.”
Dr. Humphrey shared her great satisfaction with Labster’s support team: “Right from the beginning, I have found the customer service with Labster to be nothing short of outstanding. I am impressed with their professionalism and attentiveness. I’m sure they have bigger clients than our small school, however, I wouldn’t know it based on their responsiveness to both me and my students. The customer success manager I deal with not only responds to my inquiries but calls to follow up to make sure any issues have been resolved to my satisfaction. For anyone considering using a virtual simulation platform, if customer service is a priority, you will not be disappointed with Labster’s team of professionals.”
Students love Labster too
To get a clearer picture of what her students’ perception and opinions regarding Labster were, Dr. Humphrey surveyed the students in her course evaluations.
These are direct quotes from students when asked: “Were the Labster simulations effective in promoting laboratory skills and conceptual understanding?”:
- I loved Labster – I hope to use it more in the future!
- I was able to learn content and theory from Labster. I found the “theory” section helpful. It included clear definitions and explanation of content. I think that few things can replace the hands-on learning experience, however, given the fact that this is a science-based online course I think that Labster is a good option.
- Very stimulating. It helped enforce the topic from lectures.
- I really enjoyed Labster. I found the labs enjoyable. They really helped to enhance my learning.
- I actually enjoyed Labster and thought it helped to really reinforce the class material.
- I do believe Labster helps with real-world laboratory skills.
- I absolutely think the Labster simulations were effective and interesting.
- It provided a real-life lab feel and also gave me the opportunity to do labs that couldn’t necessarily be done in a normal lab classroom setting.
- YES!!! Definitely.
- I’ve worked in BSL-2 Labs before and the simulations were accurate!
- For someone who hasn’t taken many science courses, Labster promotes laboratory skills and is effective. I thought the simulations were interesting.
- They were very thorough and it was really cool to get to perform experiments that we ordinarily wouldn’t get a chance to do.
- Yes, they were! I liked the quality of it and being able to “use” equipment and other resources we otherwise would not have used in a lab on campus.
- Labster was great, very effective and similar to actions taken in a physical lab setting.
Above and beyond expectations—at a reasonable cost
Having used Labster as a core element in her course for almost three years now, we were also curious to hear what value Dr. Humphrey thought Labster had added, and if Labster met her initial expectations. To this, Dr. Humphrey replied: “The simulations have most certainly met my expectations.”
She elaborated on the different areas in which it had brought value and how she perceived it in the light of her expectations: “I expect any lab simulation program that I use in my courses to be easy to navigate, require only basic system requirements, present real-world explorations, use up-to-date graphics that simulate modern and contemporary equipment and scenarios, familiarize students with laboratory safety techniques, be continually updated to reflect advancements in rapidly evolving fields and technologies, allow students to gain experience with data manipulation and interpretation, present interesting explorations that allow students to connect concepts with application, test student knowledge with embedded assessments, and include activities that are level-appropriate, interesting, meaningful, and engaging. Labster fits the bill in all aspects.”
“In addition,” she continued, “cost to students is always a consideration when I adopt materials for my courses, and access to all of the simulations in Labster was equal to or cheaper than requiring students to purchase a lab manual.”
Dr. Humphrey has carried out formative and summative assessments in her courses which have provided evidence that supports the continued use of Labster in her courses to enhance understanding and laboratory skills amongst her students. To conclude our talk, she emphasized her strong support for Labster as a solid educational tool:
“I would definitely recommend Labster to anyone looking for interesting lab simulations that cover a wide range of science content. There are many simulations to choose from—enough that you will not have trouble finding one to suit the needs of most science courses. Labster simulations cover contemporary topics, use modern graphics, and produce relevant data output in a realistic lab setting for a reasonable price.”
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