Authors: Ram Kumar, Keerti Neha, Vishnu Kumar Dwivedi
Certificate: View Certificate
Laboratories are integral part of the curriculum. With the advancement of technologies especially information and communication technology there is a pace for the designing and development of virtual labs. There are different types of online labs which are accessible through digital devices over internet. Virtual labs based upon 3D simulations are very close to the traditional or physical laboratories. Due to interactivity, such labs can give a pre-lab hand-on practice of experiments in a safe, secure and self pace environment. Purpose of the study is to investigate advantages and disadvantages of the virtual labs with the emphasis on their limitations.
Practical work has always been regarded as an important vehicle in delivering high-quality education and a distinctive feature of science teaching and learning[i]. A laboratory is that area where testing, research, innovations are tried, tested and validated before it reaches the market. It is the second house of scientists, where they perform experiments to develop new drugs, chemicals, study various types of living cells, DNA and lot more of research that helps to progress in Science and Technology[ii].
For students labs are great places which help them enhance their learning by understanding the theoretical concepts of science which are taught in classrooms[iii]. Laboratory teaching assumes that first-hand experience in observation and manipulation of the materials of science is superior to other methods of developing understanding and appreciation[iv]. Laboratory training is also frequently used to develop skills necessary for more advanced study or research[v]. Well-designed laboratories not only make science experiments fun but also help students in achieving good academic results.
The use of technology in education plays an essential role in enhancing the learning process and increasing its effectiveness. It helps teachers explain and present information efficiently in an enjoyable way and helps students collaborate with their teachers, access other educational resources, and learn technical skills[vi]. With the advancement of science, technology and advent of information and communication technology a new type of laboratory[vii] called virtual laboratory came into existence where teachers should use digital technologies to support and enhance practical experience, but not to replace it. Cramer et. al. (1997) gave a definition of virtual laboratory as a software simulation of an experiment whose output data is indistinguishable from data from a real physics experiment[viii]. A virtual laboratory is one where the student interacts with an experiment or activity which is intrinsically remote from the student or which has no immediate physical reality.
A. Computer Simulations
A computer simulation is the usage of a computer for the imitation of a real-world process or system[i]. A simulation requires a model, or a mathematical description of the real system. This is in the form of computer programs, which encompass the key characteristics or behaviors of the selected system[ii]. Computer simulations are used in a wide variety of practical contexts, such as: analysis of air pollutant dispersion using atmospheric dispersion modeling, design of complex systems such as aircraft and also logistics systems.
Interactive computer simulation is a human in the loop simulation programmed inside a computer[iii]. Interactive computer simulation software enables users (teachers and students) make decisions and input these decisions into the computer. The computer uses the model to calculate new values for the new inputs in the system[iv].
B. Interactive Learning Environments
Interactive learning is any sort of academic plan that uses computer technology in order to emphasize or teach specific material. An interactive learning environment is learning that requires student participation[v]. This participation can come through class and small group discussions as well as through exploration of the interactive learning materials given in a digital classroom[vi].
C. Virtual Labs As Interactive Learning Resources
Education has always been based on the traditional model of pursuing learning by books or locations like the library, college or any kind of field trips[vii]. Other than that, people get to know through a chat process through blogs or workshops by witnessing the real-life scenario. Today's technology makes it possible to secure extraordinarily fragile structures and objects from further deterioration, given the re-establishment of verifiable information by keeping track of a current database system. As one of the most important eLearning tools, they allow the student to conduct various experiments without any constraints to place or time, in contrast to the constraints of real labs.
II. CHALLENGES WITH TRADITIONAL LAB
A. Limited or no access to physical laboratories. Students and employees don’t necessarily have access to a lab at any time.
B. Risk of accidents. Experimenting with equipment and hazardous substances is particularly dangerous when learners are inexperienced.
C. Expensive lab equipment. Learners don’t get to experiment with modern, advanced machines as they’re often out of budget. Therefore, their learning experience is incomplete.
D. Crowded labs. Equipment and materials are limited. Not every learner will have the chance to play around and conduct experiments first-hand.
E. Low priority for learning. Few companies are able to afford equipment used specifically for training purposes. When machines and programs are used for actual work, little or no time is left for learning.
F. Lack of engagement. Common limitations of physical labs (e.g. inadequate number of machines, outdated equipment, etc.) turn learners off. If they can’t practice what they’re learning in theory, it’s harder to understand complex concepts and stay motivated.[viii]
III. TYPES OF VIRTUAL LABS
IV. BENEFITS OF THE VIRTUAL LABS
A virtual laboratory, though, can tackle those challenges, one by one, and virtual labs come with a bunch of benefits. Here are some of them[x]
V. DISADVANTAGES AND LIMITATIONS OF THE VIRTUAL LABS
There are some major limitations and disadvantages of virtual labs, most of which are in general limitations and disadvantages of the e-learning itself.
As the world undergoes a radical transformation in techniques and methods of education and the use of digital devices in education, it is essential that educational institutions keep up with that transformation in order to help their students compete in the global market and fields of research. It is clear to us that the digital age will only open the way for those who can keep up with it and have technological skills that enable them to adapt to the technological applications in all aspects of life. Virtual labs are excellent digital resources that help to save costs and enhance student productivity manifolds. Moreover, they allow students to take part in course work from any location and seamlessly combine the convenience and ease of use offered by contemporary technology. While virtual labs still need some improvements to replicate the physical laboratories, it won’t be wrong to say that they are very important and interactive resources for education especially e-learning and distance learning.
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