Virtual Laboratories as Preparation to a Practical Laboratory Course at the Example of Genetics
A virtual laboratory is an abstraction of a real laboratory and allows for executing experiments in a computer-based simulation.
Goal of virtual laboratories is to train the student’s procedural knowledge that is needed for conducting experiments in a real laboratory environment.
Students can train themselves comfortably in a secure environment using the computer and without wasting precious resources such as substances and devices. Different aspects of virtual laboratories in the field of genetics have been evaluated in the past. However, to the best of our knowledge there is so far no evaluation carried out that is investigating the impact of training with a virtual laboratory to the realworld laboratory course.
In order to address this gap, we have conducted a comparative study using the photorealistic virtual laboratory GenLab for genetics and genetic engineering. While one group of students (n=18) did receive a training using GenLab prior to real-world laboratory experimentation, the others did not (n=14).
We recorded the students’ own assessment of the experiments complexity and comprehensibility. For two experiments, we recorded more detailed information as they were trained using GenLab in the treatment group. In addition, we measured the time needed by the students for conducting experiments in a real laboratory course. The results show that there are some significant differences for the more complex experiment tasks, while this was not observed for the less complex ones. The differences might be explained by the amount of repetitive and rather simpler tasks versus some other tasks that are also repetitive but require higher concentration in order to avoid mistakes. Furthermore, the more complex experiment was reproduced more closely in the virtual lab. This indicates that procedural knowledge is best acquired when the experiment can be reenacted virtually step by step. Overall, working with the virtual lab was perceived positively by the students. Hence, its integration within the curriculum of genetics is considered to be beneficial for the students’ motivation and their preparedness for the real-world lab.