Morgan State implements virtual labs 1 month before finals week

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The view of the work area of Labster’s virtual lab simulation.

Jordan D. Brown, Staff Writer

Morgan State completed its third week of virtual instruction on Friday and as classrooms continue to adjust to their ‘new normal,’ the biology department introduced its students to virtual labs in early April. Similar to the introduction of online learning, the university’s newest addition to its virtual world of education wasn’t hassle-free.

Labster, a software that gives students access to a realistic lab experience from the comfort of their home, allows its participants to practice skills without the risk of injury.

Freshman biology major Mikayla Harris said the online lab is packed with opportunities for her to ask questions and repeat steps, similar to an in-classroom lab.

But, unlike face-to-face instruction, Harris said students aren’t placed on a time limit and can complete the simulation at their leisure. 

“The online lab is surprisingly easy to use, but the main challenge was familiarizing ourselves with the program,” she said.

What many students have compared to a video game, begins with an introductory lab to accumulate its users to the software’s safety precautions. Students are guided step-by-step as they find lab equipment, clean work areas and remain injury-free throughout the experiment. 

If the user puts their virtual character in harm’s way, it will experience external pain.

“We combine these with gamification elements such as an immersive 3-D universe, storytelling and a scoring system which stimulates students’ natural curiosity and highlights the connection between science and the real world,” Labster said in a statement on their website.

As professors acclimate themselves to the newest software to assist their students, Biology Professor Frank Denero said his online lectures effectively educate his students. He said the mode of education shouldn’t be as significant as the person’s determination for success.

“People make a big deal about the mode of education, I believe that is really secondary,” he said.

Junior marketing major Daria Granderson now navigates the software fairly easy, but—like many students—she didn’t complete her first few days of online labs without a sense of confusion.

“I had problems when they first introduced the online labs to us but now I don’t,” she said. “The process is fairly easy because everything is on Canvas.”

Harris’ concern, like many others, was the simulation’s efficiency compared to the real thing. 

“Because my major is so lab dependent, without understanding how the lab program works—we can’t complete our labs,” she said. “It hinders our progress in the work material because all of what we learn pertains to the lab somehow.”

Frank Denero said he hasn’t witnessed a drastic change in his students’ academic performance since the transition to online instruction due to the campus-wide closing.

“The students who are late, are still late,” he said. “The students that pay attention and therefore can answer the questions, are still the same students.”