A laboratory plays a very important role in learning chemistry, especially for K-12 students. It facilitates various experimental activities that support their understanding of concepts. However, various conceptual gaps often arise in a traditional chemistry lab because of multiple constraints, and one of the ways to overcome these constraints is through the visualization of elements in a virtual environment.
Technological advancements in recent times, coupled with the need to shift to a remote learning environment, owing to the pandemic, have given rise to this innovative concept of virtual chemistry labs. In this blog, we learn more about virtual chemistry labs, their effectiveness in K-12 education, and how they help students learn better.
What is a virtual chemistry lab?
The virtual chemistry laboratory is essentially an online simulation of a physical chemistry lab. It is specifically designed to help students link or make connections of various chemical computations with authentic laboratory chemistry.
Setting a new trend for educators and taking teaching to the next level, these virtual chemistry labs offer a distraction-free virtual environment in a simulated lab setting. It allows learners to conveniently perform chemistry experiments and work around different chemicals/compounds safely.
The idea of virtual chemistry labs is also gaining a lot of traction as schools and K-12 institutions try to cut down costs, expand their reach, enhance student understanding, and offer a very different kind of hands-on training for future scientists.
Are virtual chemistry labs effective?
Virtual chemistry labs or virtual laboratory simulations have been primarily designed for two main purposes in chemistry education-
- To provide students with detailed visual representations of chemistry concepts
- To better prepare students for their laboratory sessions
Keeping both the above objectives in mind, virtual chemistry labs are definitely an effective tool for gaining familiarity with the laboratory environment, especially for students studying remotely or those who do not have the opportunity to explore the laboratory physically.
These labs incorporate various pedagogical techniques proven to facilitate a better understanding of theoretical information, including visual learning, active learning, recall-based learning, gamification & storytelling. Further, virtual chemistry labs also offer students a realistic lab experience that will allow them to perform experiments and practice their skills in an interactive and risk-free learning environment.
Benefits of virtual chemistry labs in making students learn better
Unlike the physical chemistry labs where students’ access to material is restricted to particular experiments, in a virtual platform, they enjoy higher flexibility to try different experiments and perform better research that could be potentially hazardous in actual laboratories.
Further, virtual chemistry labs provide students with the convenience of altering/changing the inputs or compounds used in the experiment without worrying about any dangerous effects of these changes. It enables students to learn more, develop deep cognitive skills, and also allows them to get creative with their ideas.
When it comes to actual chemistry laboratories, the safety of students remains one of the key concerns. On the contrary, in a virtual environment, students’ safety is not put at risk. Since there is no direct contact with any kind of chemicals, virtual labs protect both students and teachers from all kinds of hazards.
With a well-designed and immersive virtual lab environment, students get easy access to labs and modules on their mobile devices on the go, irrespective of their physical location.
Apart from this, virtual labs allow students to perform the same or new experiments multiple times at their own pace, with no time constraints. This helps them better understand and master chemistry concepts that may be otherwise difficult to grasp. Also, it allows teachers and students to save a great deal of time and effort because they don’t need to adhere to the timelines to enter the lab or move from one place to another.
Offer instant feedback
Another advantage of virtual chemistry labs is that it allows students to redo experiments immediately. Since all the experiment results are recorded, maintaining communication between teachers and students becomes more efficient too.
Unlike the traditional lab setup, in virtual chemistry labs, students have unlimited options. Students can go over their mistakes, analyze what went wrong and give it another shot immediately.
Better learning experience
Ranging from interesting 2D video games which use easy-to-manage toggles to control variables to 3D simulations that aim to offer a more immersive experience, virtual chemistry labs offer it all.
They also provide students with clear objectives and step-by-step instructions, thus guiding them through the various technical steps for carrying out complex chemistry procedures.
While it is still doubtful whether virtual labs will completely replace physical labs in K-12 education just yet, they are definitely here to stay. This is simply because, unlike the traditional chemistry labs, where there are multiple concerns such as safety, lack of resources for repeated experiments, and time constraints, virtual chemistry labs come with no such limitations.
Presenting a more viable educational approach for STEM subjects, virtual chemistry labs open a world of possibilities for K-12 students and help them master even the most complex of chemistry concepts.