Virtual Labs: Labster Under the Lens

Thinking about conducting labs online? Consider using Labster - a complete interactive virtual lab simulator!

Session Details

Teaching concepts online without hands-on experimentation can be challenging. However, Labster can offer an online alternative with their virtual lab simulations. This session features instructors who have used Labster in their courses, their experiences, and their students' perceptions on the virtual lab platform.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you've decided that Labster is the tool for you, feel free to schedule a consultation and we'll get started.

Review the Session's Slidedeck

Webinar Agenda

  1. What is Labster?
  2. Who is Using Labster?
  3. Student Perspectives
  4. Common Challenges
  5. Other Resources

What is Labster?

You can deliver lectures online through Zoom and BB Collaborate, but what about labs? It's not feasible to mail everyone a lab kit to their home, especially if the class has 800 students who're scattered all around the world. That's where Labster comes in.

Labster is a platform that hosts fully interactive virtual lab simulations for students learning online. With brilliant 3D animations, students can interact with all kinds of lab equipment - including looking through a microscope, mixing compounds, and even causing a chemical explosion! Not only does Labster has full integration support with Quercus, but instructors can also contact Labster's course consultants for help building their labs. All you have to do is send them your syllabus!

Many instructors at the university are already using Labster.

  • UTSC and UTM are using Labster for Biology, Medicine, etc.
  • At St. George, the Faculty Engineering have been using Labster for certain courses

Who is Using Labster?

Judith Poe, Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences at UTM
Professor Poe is currently using Labster for courses CHM110H5F and CHM120H5S. These courses are largely first year students (800~ students) planning to major in life or physical sciences. Sucess in these courses depends on:

  • Ability to link macroscopic observations to macrosopic explanations and symbolic representations
  • Algebraic problem solving ability

She is currently incorporating 7 Labster simulations for her course - 3 in PRA classes, and 4 as homework.

Elizabeth Polvi, Course Coordinator at University of Toronto
Elizabeth is a course coordinator for Introduction to Medical Microbiology (MGY277). This course has always been an asynchronous online course. This year, there were around 300 students enrolled. As an asynchronous online course, the factors for student success centers around engagement and motivation. Elizabeth is currently incorporating two Labster simulation as course assignment - each worth 5% of the final grade.

The simulations current implemented are:

  • The Gram Stain: identify and differentiate bacteria
  • Bacterial Cell Structures: introduction to the bacterial cell

Tae Joon Yi, Department of Biology at UTSC
Labster is also used for BIOC15, Genetics, which has around 100-150 students. For students to succeed, it is important to create an immersive experience that can complement the course material. Labster simulations were marked as participation in order to focus on the immersive experience rather than answering what's "right." Instead, Labster contents were tested as short answer questions on two term tests and a final.

Student Perspectives

After writing their midterm, the students were asked to fill a survey on their opinions on Labster and the course.

  • An overwhelming majority of students enjoyed the simulations and found them motivating.

  • An overwhelming majority of students agreed that Labster simulations increased their understanding of course concepts.

  • Over half of students reported experiencing technical issues with Labster.
    • Labster has many bugs and glitches, which can cause lagging, freezing or crashing

  • One TA even said they wished "labster was part of [their] undergrad."

Common Challenges

Of course, every program has it's faults. While there are no glaring issues with the platform, there are a number of small inconsistencies students and instructors have experienced.

  • Many students (and instructors) have reported that Labster heats up their phone and laptop very quickly, which can be slightly concerning.
    • Labster's website states that Labster should only be used on desktops and laptops (avoid running Labster on your phone!)
    • The platform may be hardware demanding (see minimum requirements)
  • There are an abundance of technical glitches
    • The software is known to freeze and crash, which can be fixed with a reboot
  • Simulations require the "exact right answer" or else the student can't progress
  • Generous in giving marks
    • The average lab performance is around 90%
  • Some simulations can take up to an hour
    • Students should be notified beforehand if this is the case
  • Some instructions may be vague or unclear
    • It is important for the instructor to read all the Labster instructions before assigning them to students

Other Resources

Beyond Labz

Beyond Labz offers research-based, open-ended virtual lab experiences for students, complete with the safety constraints of an in-person lab experience. The labs are built on actual experimental data, and students and record/report data in a virtual lab book, export their data, and analyze it in Google Sheets or Excel. While Beyond Labz is not integrated into Quercus.

OLS Virtual Labs

The Online Learning Strategies team suggests three great places to start with online/remote labs:

  1. Use open source materials available at no cost. Many highquality lab simulations and online interactive learning objects are available to be embedded or linked through Quercus course shells. 
  2. License rich content that includes online labs and formative assessment available from publishers and other disciplinespecific providers.  
  3. Create your own labs or activity guides using simple video clips of lab protocols and accompanying data sets for analysis. Use a similar strategy for Studio courses or other practical labs. 

Many online labs can be embedded or linked from course pages in Quercus:

Online Simulations and modules can also replciate in-calss activities and achieve learning outcomes:

For more information, see Virtual Labs - Reviews and Previews and Virtual Labs for Remote/Online Courses.