Virtual simulations as preparation for lab exercises: Assessing learning of key laboratory skills in microbiology and improvement of essential non-cognitive skills

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Abstract

Objective<br />To investigate if a virtual laboratory simulation (vLAB) could be used<br />to replace a face to face tutorial (demonstration) to prepare students<br />for a laboratory exercise in microbiology.<br />Methods<br />A total of 189 students who were participating in an undergraduate<br />biology course were randomly selected into a vLAB or demonstration<br />condition. In the vLAB condition students could use a vLAB at home to<br />`practice' streaking out bacteria on agar plates in a virtual<br />environment. In the demonstration condition students were given a live<br />demonstration from a lab tutor showing them how to streak out bacteria<br />on agar plates. All students were blindly assessed on their ability to<br />perform the streaking technique in the physical lab, and were<br />administered a pre and post-test to determine their knowledge of<br />microbiology, intrinsic motivation to study microbiology, and<br />self-efficacy in the field of microbiology prior to, and after the<br />experiment.<br />Results<br />The results showed that there were no significant differences between<br />the two groups on their lab scores, and both groups had similar<br />increases in knowledge of microbiology, intrinsic motivation to study<br />microbiology, as well as self-efficacy in the field of microbiology.<br />Conclusion<br />Our data show that vLABs function just as well as face to face tutorials<br />in preparing students for a physical lab activity in microbiology. The<br />results imply that vLABs could be used instead of face to face<br />tutorials, and a combination of virtual and physical lab exercises could<br />be the future of science education.

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Makransky, G., Thisgaard, M. W., & Gadegaard, H. (2016). Virtual simulations as preparation for lab exercises: Assessing learning of key laboratory skills in microbiology and improvement of essential non-cognitive skills. PLoS ONE, 11(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155895

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