While institutions made use of virtual labs during the pandemic with learners becoming less dependent on instructors, a study conducted by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham suggests that they seem to be an alternative for laboratory education for distant learners, especially after Covid-19.

The study titled “What virtual laboratory usage tells us about laboratory skill education pre- and post-Covid 19: Focus on usage, behaviour, intention and adoption”, explores the role of virtual laboratories as massive open online courses (MOOCs) in ensuring the continuity of teaching-learning and providing alternative ways for skill-training from home. It also tries to understand the social and behavioural interaction among adopters of virtual laboratories, teachers and students, in the context of an Indian education system using information and communication technologies.

To test whether virtualization techniques have a global impact on the education sector, the study included a comparative analysis of student users undergraduate and postgraduate students during the academic year 2019 who opted for blended learning and those of the year 2020, who learned remotely.

“The results suggest virtual laboratories may have a prominent role in inquiry-based and self-guided education with minimum instructor dependency, which may be crucial for complementing practice skills and planning online tools to add to the post-Covid-19 teaching and learning scenarios,” said Shyam Diwakar, director, Amrita Mind-Brain Center, and faculty, School of Biotechnology, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, who was involved with the study.

More than 90% of users agreed that the virtual platform was useful as an interactive textbook in the absence of an instructor and helped understand experimental concepts with minimum instructor support, according to the study. Among the participants, 20% indicated they have accessed a single module of the experiment only once for learning both theoretical and experimental concepts, while 54% indicated that they accessed less than five times to learn an experiment while 26% indicated they accessed virtual laboratories for more than 10 times in a week for learning the experiment module without an instructor’s support, the study added.

What was important is that most students finished a laboratory module in less than 1 hour that would not be possible in the real laboratory, suggesting the efficiency of virtual laboratories as practice tools. “While before and post-Covid-19 may be perceived as two crucially different phases, the post-Covid-19 study on these virtual laboratory usages reveal that these novel trends on the adoption of ICT tools are based on online learning behaviours observed even before the lockdowns.

Technology helped students to be better prepared for the wet lab. However, the virtual lab can never replace a real lab in science,” added Bipin Nair, dean of Life Sciences, School of Biotechnology, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, who was also part of the study.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Times of India. The original article can be found at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/amrita-study-sees-enhanced-role-for-virtual-labs-as-education-tool/articleshow/87917353.cms)