Something akin to a video game and a flight simulator has become an important new way to keep learning on track.
"I would give it an A for what it does," said Jason Singley.
The dean of the College of Science at Cal State East Bay is talking about Labster. About 500 biology students on his campus are doing virtual lab experiments this way with regular labs closed. Other CSU campuses are using it for chemistry and physics as well. Labster says it enlisted scientists and video game designers to make it realistic as well as engaging. It's not a substitute for hands-on lab work, but it fills a need.
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"I don't think I would want to be treated by a doctor who's never had his or her hands on a real thing, but for sure, it's a very nice supplement," said Dr. Cynthia Trevisan, chair of the Department of Sciences and Mathematics at CSU Maritime Academy in Vallejo.
CSU faculty made adjustments to integrate Labster into their curriculum. It gives students the opportunity to do an experiment over if the outcome isn't perfect the first time. Some experiments are supplemented with lab kits students can use at home.
"Flight simulators are actually better at training pilots in many of the different skills that the pilots need to practice," said Michael Bodekaer Jensen, co-founder and CEO of Labster. "We believe that we'll see virtual labs within science also replace or supplement the physical labs to a very large degree."
Learning safety protocols is an important part of lab work. A virtual lab can also expand horizons.
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"We might want to do a nuclear physics experiment, and we can't do that here," said CSU East Bay's Singley. "But we can do that in Labster, so there it really opens up, I would say, a type of virtual experimentation that you can do."
As faculty experiment with this platform, they're finding students are asking more questions.
"We want these simulations to have them question everything they see, so it's been a very good experience so far," said Dr. Trevisan at CSU Maritime Academy.
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