Virtual Labs

Stony Brook U Project Aims to Extend Virtual Science Labs with Gaming Controls

Virtual labs have done a decent job of introducing students to scientific work and allowing them to simulate experiments in the absence of a physical lab. However, a faculty member at Stony Brook University said she believes virtual labs could do more, and she intends to apply gamification to find out whether its use could expand how science is practiced online.

M. Ete Chan, an assistant professor in the department of Biomedical Engineering, recently received a grant from her institution to research a project she's calling, "Lab-in-a-Cube." The problem Chan identified was that while virtual science labs look realistic, they still lack some "crucial" aspects: "tactile skills, decision-making for preparation and execution of the lab." For example, the process of "pipetting up and dispensing an accurate volume of chemicals without introducing unnecessary air bubbles cannot be practiced online currently," she noted in a proposal about the project. Likewise, virtual labs rely too much on "computer mouse clicking" or simple choices.

Chan's idea is to come up with hardware that will act as a remote controller to incorporate "key shapes and buttons" of actual lab tools, such as micropipettes, pipette guns, flasks and timers. The use of that kind of virtual content will allow students "to gain realistic hands-on experience."

Chan's funding comes from a program run by the State University of New York (SUNY) that issues "Innovative Instruction Technology Grants" to faculty working on projects in instructional technology that could find replication across all campuses in the system.

Chan will be joined in the initiative with people from other Stony Brook departments in the College of Engineering and Applied Science and Teaching, Learning+Technology Media Lab.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.