Centennial College identifies eight strategic goals as articulated in its Book of Commitments. One of the goals is to “offer the map and the compass” which, in part, entails “leveraging technology tools to design, deliver, and manage learning.”
Centennial College’s Applied Biological and Environmental Sciences (ABES) programs (e.g., Biotechnology, Medical Laboratory Technician, and Environmental Technician) are therefore exploring ways in which educational technology tools may be integrated in order to provide a technology-enhanced learning environment. Based on what we learned through the webinar from eCampusOntario, and after consultation with the college’s instructional design team, we believe that exploration of Labster virtual simulations offers promise in this process of course modality redesign.
This report describes the pilot phase of the project that is focused on investigating the effectiveness (in terms of delivering specific learning outcomes, and also engaging and motivating students and teachers) of Labster virtual simulations in the ABES department at Centennial College.
Although several courses exist within ABES programs for which virtual simulations could be relevant, the BAM-108-Biological Techniques course was proposed for the Labster pilot. This introductory-level course was designed to have students acquire basic knowledge of techniques used in microbiology laboratories.
In order to assess the utility of the Labster, four virtual simulations were introduced in BAM-108 laboratory settings in the fall 2017 semester. Following this, the faculty team, in consultation with the curriculum and instructional design analyst, explored ways in which the virtual lab simulations can be integrated into the course. In this case, “integration” was explored in multiple contexts, particularly in how the Labster simulations may complement, augment, and/or substitute for curriculum presented in the course. The perceived and actualized “effectiveness” was assessed (as measured through student surveys, assessment scores, and instructor’s reflection on the experience with Labster).
Analysis of the feedback has shown that integration of Labster virtual lab simulations with BAM-108 did not fully meet the course and program learning outcomes. Consequently, the course was removed from the project and the new CH-222 (Biochemistry 1) course was proposed to pilot Labster virtual simulations in the winter 2018 semester, which the teaching faculty agreed may be effective for promoting student learning. In the summer 2018 semester, the process for curriculum integration of Labster virtual simulations was developed. As of fall 2018, three Labster virtual simulations have been fully integrated into CH-222 course.
Our findings suggest that Labster virtual learning simulations may enhance student learning and can be used as supplementary educational methods.
To maximize the opportunities for success of the virtual simulations project at Centennial College, faculty members, in consultation with a college instructional design analyst and Labster specialists, explored ways in which the simulations could be integrated into two courses in the Biotechnology and Food Science Technology programs in the 2017–18 academic year. The working team of the project is presented in Table 14.1.
|Steve Bouloudakis||Project Lead, Chair||Applied Biological and Environmental Sciences (ABES) Centennial College||Administrative supervision and coordination of the project|
|Greg Atkinson||Curriculum and Design Analyst||Centre for Academic Quality, Centennial College|
|Marina Ioselevich||Professor and Co-Project Lead||ABES, Centennial College|
|Fouroozan Mohammadi||Professor||ABES, Centennial College|
|Sam Butcher||Customer Development Manager||Labster||Point of contact for the Labster team and Centennial College team|
|Emma Durand||Customer Success Specialist||Labster|
Table 14.1: Project team and responsibilities
The project team remained in a constant state of communication via face-to-face meetings, email, and telephone calls (see Table 14.2) to identify courses within ABES programs for which virtual simulations may be relevant, any need to retool and redesign curriculums of those courses, how to integrate Labster simulations into teaching strategies, and to gather evaluative data and student feedback.
|September 2017||All project team members, eCampusOntario||Introduce project members, Review objectives and goals||Face-to-Face meeting, webinar|
|September 2017||All project team members||Face-to-face meeting, email, conference call|
|November 2017||All project team members||Discussion of project progress||Face-to-face meeting, email, conference call|
|December 2017||All project team members||Discussion of project progress, students’ feedback and plans for winter 2018 semester||Face-to-face meeting, email, conference call|
|January 2018||Project lead, Centennial College project team||Face-to-face meeting|
|January 2018||All project team members||A mid-term evaluation of the project||Face-to-face meeting, email, conference call|
|February 2018||All project team members|
|March 2018||All project team members||Discussion of project’s progress, students feedback and plans for summer 2018 semester||Face-to-face meeting, email|
|April 2018||Project lead, Centennial College project team||Assessment of impact||Face-to-face meeting|
|May 2018||Project lead, Centennial College project team||Face-to-face meeting|
|June–August 2018||All project team members||Discussion of project progress, assessment components, student feedback on Labster labs in CH-222 course||Face-to-face meeting|
|September 2018||Evaluation of the final phase of the pilot virtual simulations project||Face-to-face meeting|
Table 14.2: Project Communications Matrix
Faculty members participating in the project represented two courses in the Biotechnology and Food Science Technology Programs. Table 14.3 provides the details.
|Course||Evaluation Period||Class Size||Faculty|
|BAM-108||September 2017–January 2018||23||Marina Loselevich|
|CH-222||January 2018–April 2018||325||Fouroozan Mohammadi|
|CH-222||May 2018–August 2018||150||Fouroozan Mohammadi|
Table 14.3: Class size and faculty members and participating in the project by course
In the fall 2017 semester, four virtual simulations were introduced in BAM-108 laboratory settings. BAM-108-Biological Techniques is a one-hour, very intensive in-lab hands-on course where the students acquire expertise in methods such as streak plate, decimal dilution, enumeration by pour and spread plate, differential and structural staining, and microscopy. Labster virtual laboratory simulations were used as a pre-lab exercise. Students completed the simulations individually prior coming to the class.
In the project meeting in November 2017, the instructor teaching BAM-108 course shared her observations of her experience with Labster virtual simulations. Examples of the most apparent benefits of using Labster simulations as an instructional tool include:
- The online format of the virtual simulations makes it accessible to all students, including those who require more flexible schedules.
- Online virtual lab simulations help students understand the theory and complex science concepts.
- Virtual simulations test ability to troubleshoot experiments, interpret results, and use critical thinking.
- Online virtual labs allow students to repeat the experiments as many times as they wish; they include simulators, theory, and a mandatory post-simulation quiz.
- Virtual lab simulations allow students to finish the wet lab experiments faster than without virtual labs.
- Labster Teacher Dashboard provides summary statistics on students’ overall performance in every undertaken simulation lab.
- Labster support specialists provide 24/7 technical support for instructors and students.
Benefits highlighted by the instructor, the quality of the students’ results, and responses to the post-simulation survey all demonstrate that Labster virtual lab simulations may be effective tools for promoting student learning in BAM-108 laboratory settings. However, virtual lab simulations cannot replace time at the bench and hands-on practical activities needed to develop students’ practical skills, and therefore do not fully meet the main BAM-108 course learning outcomes and course assessments and do not match integration goals for students’ learning benefits.
In a December 2017 meeting, the project team members shared their observations, insights, and accomplishments with Labster virtual simulations integration. Based on feedback obtained, a decision was made to remove BAM-108 from the project, and the new CH-222-Biochemistry 1 course was proposed to pilot Labster virtual simulations in the winter and summer 2018 semesters.
Starting in the winter 2018, CH-222-Biochemistry 1 was offered in a blended learning format: one hour per week of online learning, two hours per week of face-to-face lecture, and two hours per week of traditional hands-on laboratory training. The online portion of the course is asynchronous, which means that students can complete this part of the course at a time that is convenient to them, but before the assigned deadlines. In this course, students are introduced to the theoretical and practical application of biochemistry. The theory focuses on the most important molecules found in living systems from nucleic acids to proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and enzymes. Theory concepts are applied and explored by students in the lab.
Given this focus, three virtual simulations were integrated in CH-222: 325 students completed the lab simulations in the winter 2018 semester, and 150 in the summer 2018 semester. Labster virtual simulations were integrated into online learning modules, linked to face-to-face lectures as a complementary learning tool, and used as a pre-lab exercise. Students completed the simulations individually prior coming to the related lectures or lab sessions. Virtual simulations were integrated as a graded element into the course, which caused minor modifications and adjustments of a grading policy in the syllabus.
The overall impact of Labster virtual lab simulations on students’ learning in CH-222 was discussed during the monthly project meetings (see Table 14.2). The faculty team highlighted the following potential benefits and advantages of integration of Labster virtual lab simulations with CH-222 beyond those indicated for BAM-108:
- Labster simulations include theory components and animations that are linked to complex topics covered in face-to-face lectures and lab experiments in CH-222.
- Labster simulations allow for demonstrations of structure, mechanisms, and techniques to observe otherwise unobservable biochemical phenomena and thus help students to develop an understanding of concepts and processes.
- Visual lab simulations can be connected to course assessments and in-lab and in-lecture course activities.
- Every Labster virtual lab simulation includes built-in, multiple-choice questions accompanied by immediate personal feedback to the users. This form of assessment gives students the opportunity to reflect on what they’ve learned;
- Integration of Labster simulations in curriculum helps in assessing the engagement and progress of students.
However, the project team members raised a number of concerns about Labster simulations integration:
- Most Labster virtual simulations were developed for universities rather than colleges. Instructors have been unable to find level-appropriate simulations for courses.
- The multiple-choice questions embedded into every simulation cannot be modified by the teaching faculty to establish stronger links between course content and learning outcomes.
- Virtual simulations may discourage transferrable skills development; namely, the ability to work collaboratively in teams and to influence others, as well as direct interaction among teachers and students.
- There is a lack of linking between Desire2Learn (D2L) Learning Suite and Centennial College’s learning management system (LMS), and Labster VR platforms makes CH-222 course administration time consuming.
- There are additional costs associated with the integration of Labster virtual labs in CH-222 upon completion of the pilot project.
Overall, implementation of three Labster virtual simulations was found to be aligned with CH-222 course design. The project team members agreed that the piloted Labster virtual lab simulations could be integrated with CH-222 to extend lectures, to complement course assessments, and to provide students with virtual tools, materials and lab sets in order to perform experiments at anywhere and anytime.
Labster provided 250 free licences to be used in the 2017–18 academic year in the pilot project. Due to the high number of students taking CH-222, an additional 250 free licences were kindly provided by Labster to be distributed between the winter 2018 and summer 2018 semesters.
The students and instructors received ongoing adequate and prompt technical support and training in the use of the Labster virtual simulations to overcome all initial difficulties. The only technical issue experienced during the evaluation period was the lack of linking between D2L Learning Suite and Labster VR platforms. Integration of Labster VR platform with D2L could provide access of Labster virtual content directly in the D2L course shell, making delivering of the course resources more convenient, saving time spent in course administration, and helping instructors and Labster create an even better course experience for students.
After completing each simulation students were asked to participate in formal post-simulation survey about Labster’s impact on their learning. Results of a survey show that students expressed favourable views of the virtual experiments.
As shown in Figure 14.1, the students participated in the survey 1123 times in total (students could participate in the survey each time they play a simulation) and more than 90% of the students were positive about every aspect of Labster virtual simulations. Responses indicated that students “gained relevant knowledge by using the simulations,” “feel more confident about lab skills after the simulation,” “feel that they can apply what has been learned in the simulation to real world cases,” “found the simulation motivating,” and were “pleased with simulation overall.”
In addition, the students shared their informal feedback and thoughts with their instructors during and after the completion of the courses. The students thought Labster simulations were aligned with course learning outcomes and very helpful as supplementary resources, lecture substitutes (online learning modules), and pre-lab exercises. The students commented that Labster virtual lab simulations:
- Would be a fun time for them to learn the course key concepts.
- Allow them to visualize complex chemical structures, functions, or mechanisms.
- Give them the possibility of replaying and watching the process as many times as they needed until they’ve mastered it.
BAM-108 Course: Sample Size = 81
CH-222 Winter 2018 Course: Sample Size = 687
CH-222 Summer 2018 Course: Sample Size = 355
Figure 14.1:. Students level of agreement with five positive affirmations about Labster’s impact on their learning
In May 2018 Labster was introduced to the ABES departmental community. Thirty faculty attended the presentation by Centennial College project team members F. Mohammadi and Dr. M. Loselevich, who shared their observations, thoughts, and accomplishments with Labster virtual simulations integration in CH-222 and BAM-108.
CH-222-Biochemistry 1 will continue to integrate Labster virtual lab simulations. Students need to purchase access to three Labster virtual simulations requested as part of curriculum.
In future, we hope to gather more in-depth opinions from instructors and students in order to better assess and develop our students’ employability skills, and to meet the program and course learning outcomes through Labster virtual laboratory simulations. Further work is required in the curriculum design and technical integration support to incorporate collaborative assignments that may enhance students’ learning and transferable skills. We are actively pursuing a number of ways to continue the progress achieved thus far.
Over the three semesters, faculty team observed positive impact of Labster virtual lab simulations on students’ learning processes and level of engagement. Interactive simulations may provide an opportunity to achieve greater learning gains and motivate students. The main lessons we learned include the following:
- Having good collaboration between the Centennial College team and Labster team was instrumental to project success.
- Project meetings helped the project team to identify essential student learning, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, and then share strategies to improve upon those levels.
- Active student participation and reflection on the experience with Labster facilitates implementation of the virtual laboratory simulations into teaching strategies is valuable.
- The project needed better ways to measure project outcomes.