From bench to browser: Virtual labs as a tool for science lab delivery in a time of Covid

Finnegan-Coyne, Clare (2021) From bench to browser: Virtual labs as a tool for science lab delivery in a time of Covid.


In a teaching science laboratory there is shared equipment, hazardous material and procedures that require close lecturer supervision. The necessity of social distancing has hindered the delivery of practical subjects such as science in third level education in Ireland. As a result, novel delivery methods are needed to ensure learning outcomes are still achieved. This study reports on the effectiveness of a two-part series of virtual labs aimed at 2nd year undergraduate students in a concurrent teacher education course in the area of food science.

Virtual labs are run over a two-hour session in small groups of approximately 12 students, where students are presented with background information and a series of questions which must be correctly answered to enable the student to view a narrated video of the experiment being carried out. Following this, the student then must analyse or interpret results correctly to be brought to the next experiment. Progress and learning is assessed with a worksheet at the end of the virtual lab which directly relates to the theory and experiments carried out.

Results suggest that the average mark on the worksheet is comparable to previous years where the lab was run in-person. Feedback from participating students will be quantified with a survey to gauge student satisfaction with this mode of delivery. Preliminary results suggest this is a novel and effective way of delivering material and could play an important role in delivery of practical subjects virtually or it could be added as a pre-lab activity to prime students for more independent work in practical sessions. As the virtual labs were produced at little to no cost using simply a webcam and PowerPoint, these labs may also be beneficial for use where resources are scarce.

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