The big picture: science e-learning and virtual laboratories
Welcome to the Labster blog!
The team at Labster is all about communicating science, so this blog should hopefully do just that. Our virtual laboratories aren’t just the platform and equipment. What holds everything together is the story of science behind the cases. This blog will serve the same purpose – to wrap what we do into an engaging story.
So, first up for our inaugural blog post: let’s imagine the big picture of experimental science e-learning.
The big picture
Let’s zoom in on virtual laboratories.
Science labs, both physical and virtual, consist of science experiments, which consist of details: protocols, procedures, instruments, steps, etc. These are important, but let’s not forget the big picture.
At Labster we constantly try to remind ourselves that increased learning comes from understanding a concept from start to finish. Too often, classroom wet labs are quite limiting. Time, money and safety prevent us from executing more complex experiments, so we get only snippets of the theory and exercises contained in an advanced biotechnology lab.
But in a virtual setting, we can experience the big picture. When we code and order a gene on the computer and then later get to use this gene to make insulin for a virtual diabetic mouse, we feel like a part of the whole process of the experiment.
The educational revolution
Now, let’s zoom back out again. If we want to see how virtual lab experiments fit into e-learning, we’ll need to take the bird’s eye view.
There’s something happening in education right now.
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are destabilizing and democratizing higher education. Education technology tools are advancing at breakneck speed. Many schools have gone completely paperless.
The common denominator here is the shift to virtual. This bird’s eye view infographic by Fast Co.Exist shows us that from now until 2030, classrooms will not only digitize but move towards a blended virtual/physical setup. Students will navigate integrated offline-online learning with the help of AI, mobile platforms and immersive virtual realities.
But what does the shift to virtual mean for experimental science e-learning, of which Labster is a part?
How virtual labs can change STEM education
Science will always need physical wet labs. But to get students, researchers, educators and technicians intothese labs in the first place, they have to get excited by the story of science.
This is where virtual laboratories come into play.
If schools and teachers can remove the less effective wet labs that are limiting students’ engagement and instead supplement or replace them with their virtual counterparts, students’ ease with virtual platforms engage them with the science and its story (and hopefully they will be less likely to lose interest).
Then, perhaps in the future, the unfortunate reality reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education will change for the better: “Over the past 25 years, the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects has remained more or less constant.”