This proposal involves incorporating six Labster simulation labs into two courses of the pre-health sciences program as a means of evaluating the impact on student success and the potential for implementation into future course deliveries. Pre-health students are those completing prerequisite courses to meet admission requirements for any of Cambrian’s Health Science advanced diploma or degree programs. The two courses selected to incorporate Labster simulations are BIO1003–Biology I and BIO1010–Biology II. In the pre-health science program, there are currently no physical biology labs that are conducted. Students consume course content only and demonstrate their grasp of procedure and knowledge through written assignments or tests. The integration of the simulation labs into coursework as formative or summative assessments would address the gap of students participating in experiential learning. Below is a list of the proposed labs that would be evaluated along with the learning competencies required of the course.
Lab: Cellular Respiration
Competency: Identify cellular molecules, discuss cell transport processes, and describe cellular metabolism
Competency: Describe the structure and replication process of DNA
Lab: Introduction to Food Macro-molecule Competency: Identify biological molecules and describe their properties
Lab: Protein Synthesis
Competency: Define protein synthesis and the roles of mRNA, rRNA and tRNA in protein synthesis
Competency: Describe how the body defends itself from pathogens (immune system/body defences)
Competency: Identify the location of the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and some other substances
This project would focus on using these labs to supplement the learning competencies in BIO1010 and BIO1003 face-to-face and blended courses. This would provide students with an opportunity to succeed in real-world situations by acclimatizing them to procedures and protocols through simulation-based learning.
Changes to the Project
There was a major delay in implementation as the work stoppage in fall 2017 prevented faculty from contributing to the project. After the stoppage, it was a challenge to find interested faculty to integrate the Labster modules into their learning activities.
In April 2018, two faculty members were identified and the entire implementation of the project was changed from its original scope, with only a meiosis lab being used for the BIO1010 course offering.
The project team comprised the following:
- Chair of Academic Upgrading: This role was influential as this individual assigned the task of integrating Labster into the course material to part-time staff when no full-time staff had the capacity to do so.
- Pre-Health Sciences faculty: Two part-time faculty were exceptional in the process of re-evaluating the labs that were available and integrating them into their course material. Furthermore they provided the students with the support necessary to use the tool in class, and they were the primary point of contact for the project lead.
- Project lead: The project lead provided faculty support and training to ensure seamless implementation to the class. This role also provided video recordings to faculty to distribute to students.
- Planning and Research staff: The Planning and Research department generated and distributed the final survey to all of the students that participated in the lab.
We chose to integrate a meiosis simulation into our assessments, allotting 5% of the student’s grade for completion and accuracy of answers. Students (approximately 80) enrolled in the January intake of Pre-Health Science Pathways (PHPG) were impacted by the simulation pilot.
We found that the learners used skills and materials from our course outline for BIO1010 Chapter 6–Genetic Inheritance, and specifically, the following outcomes:
1.4 – Discuss Gregor Mendel’s experiments and contributions to the field of genetics.
2.0 – Discuss common single-gene human genetic disorders.
2.1 – Define polygenic and monogenic diseases.
2.2 – Describe chromosomal, environmental, single-gene and multi-factorial birth defects.
2.3 – Discuss dominant vs. recessive birth defects.
9.7 – Describe the process of meiosis.
9.8 – Discuss general prenatal development from fertilization to birth.
The students were able to demonstrate cooperation in group settings, problem solving, and computer skills during the simulation as well taking knowledge from the classroom and applying it to a simulation of two parents going through in vitro fertilization.
Benefits and Challenges
- The virtual lab was very interactive, allowing students to be more engaged with course material.
- The simulation was easy to use
- Setting up and registering students was simple.
- The simulation was very detailed and followed standard laboratory procedures.
- Directions were fairly clear and easy to follow.
- Resources and reference materials were provided in the simulation to support learning objectives.
- Information was accurate and concise.
- Most simulations were too advanced and did not correspond with the PHPG course outline, making it difficult to integrate the labs into the course.
- The entire simulation had to be run, as there was no way to remove or choose certain slides. Being able to remove slides that do not correspond to the course content would make it easier to incorporate more simulations into the course.
- Most simulations were very long (sometimes up to 240 steps).
- Simulation on meiosis referred to a Down Syndrome baby as being “not normal,” which was questioned by some students. It would be advisable to use terms such as “unhealthy” embryo instead of referencing terms of normality.
Two educators used the virtual labs and implemented them in their BIO1010 course. The virtual lab was used for a two-hour assessment with 70 students participating. Students were placed in groups of three in a computer lab to complete the virtual simulation.
Any technical problems or difficulties were easily handled (e.g., setting up the simulations, registering students for the simulations) and the platform was found to be quite user friendly once the proper input settings were applied to the program. With this support, students did not seem to experience any technical issues gaining access to the virtual lab.
After completion of the course, students and faculty completed a survey of the usability and effectiveness of the simulations.
From the student group, only three responded, leaving us unable to draw any statistically relevant conclusions from the survey on the student perspective.
At this point there are no plans to integrate Labster’s virtual lab simulations into the curriculum at Cambrian College.