While virtual genetics labs can provide lab-simulations in online learning, especially in a pandemic-related setting, they cannot fill the skills development gap. Nevertheless instructors and remote learners found the virtual labs useful during the pandemic school closures. The lab simulations helped students catch up as well as fill gaps as classes are from different backgrounds.
Benefits of Virtual Lab Learning
Using a PC, laptop or any smart communication device, virtual genetics labs improve comprehension and cultivate motivation to learn. Remote learners need only to click on a tube to open a vessel and transfer liquids from one container to another.
The learning experience does not require wearing of a lab coat, and handling of dangerous chemicals or use of expensive machines.
Moreover, virtual lab learning does not impose any restriction on costs of experiment, on risks related to biohazards or violation of scientific ethics. Students learn in a very “forgiving” and game-like environment as the abundance of virtual reagents allow learners to start over repeatedly.
The multimedia connection of a virtual lab helps bridge the gap between theory and concepts of executions, to yield virtual reactions instantaneously. In a real lab setting, students have to wait their turn to use a shared PCR machine. The PCR is used in heating or cooling samples to allow chemicals to react, or to continue the physical processes that transpire at a specified temperature.
Why Virtual Labs Cannot Replace Wet Labs
Prior to the pandemic, virtual genetics laboratories were being touted as the labs of the future. However, graduate students who use virtual labs commented that although they appreciate virtual labs as added resource, they were very clear in stating that virtual labs cannot replace a wet-lab experience.
Some students describe a virtual lab simulation as akin to a lab tour, where a learner can review the workflow. The experience can help to mentally prepare a student for the actual wet-lab experiment of being directly involved in handling chemical substances and equipment.
Training to become skilled in clinical and research lab techniques actually takes years. The learning experience in wet labs include dealing with the frustrations of performing work hands-on and of getting a real equipment to work for genomic sequencing. Moreover, virtual labs cannot replace the experience of learning while with a group of peers.