Unit 2: How can hands-on learning be done virtually?


How can hands-on learning be done virtually?

Due to a national pandemic and many other aspects of our changing world, virtual learning is becoming more and more prevalent in our education system. To ease the transition from traditional in-person instruction to fully remote learning, teachers are all working tirelessly to find methods of instruction that exhibit the same or similar benefits to that of typical practices. Hands-on learning is one major loss, especially for Science or STEM teachers, when teaching fully remote. Virtual labs and simulations might just be the answer that STEM teachers are looking for to promote hands-on learning benefits through a computer screen!


What are Virtual Labs?

Now that we are beginning to understand that adapting instruction is how we can manage virtual learning, the question arises "what are virtual labs?" Paul Hatherly writes "In the most general terms, a virtual laboratory is a computer-based activity where students interact with an experiment apparatus or other activity via a computer interface. Typical examples which come to mind include a simulation of an experiment, whereby a student interacts with programmed-in behaviours, and a remote-controlled experiment where a student interacts with real apparatus via a computer link, yet the student is remote from that apparatus"(Hatherly, p.1). Virtual labs and simulations are a way for a student to explore hypotheses, alter variables, and experience observations and conclusions while altering or watching a lab or experiment on the computer. These can range from a variety of science topics and also a variety of grade-levels. There are basic simulations for elementary-level students and entire labs and lab experiences for students taking higher-level Biology, Chemistry, and other types of content driven science courses.

There are many positive that come from virtual labs and simulations for our students. "Virtual laboratories (or virtual labs for short) are a great way for learners to practice in a safe, online environment. Through virtual science lab games and engineering simulation software, learners can interact with elements, machines, and interfaces before or instead of trying them out in real life" and because of this, virtual labs offer benefits that include reduced cost, guaranteed safety, creation of a true-to-life learning experience, boost in learning confidence, offers blended learning, engaging learners, unlimited time to experiment, and a way to explain complex concepts and procedures (Pavlou, C., 2020).

Here is an example of a virtual lab website that is steered toward upper science courses for high school and beyond. Labster offers both labs a simulations for students to explore at home when learning virtually. Watch the video to learn more about one of many resources out there for virtual science instruction with engaging hands-on learning components!

Exploring Resources

There are thousands of virtual resources out there that offer a lab-like experience through a computer. These websites offer students the ability to explore a wide range of topics, test their thinking, and engage with content all from their own technological device. Below is a list of some of the lab-based resources that have been utilized and loved by many educators facing the same challenges as most teachers today. Take some time to explore each website or resource and be sure to try out a specific lab or experiment within the website and reflect on your experience with the virtual lab in the Unit 2 Assignment below!

PHET Interactive Simulations - All Sciences: click on the simulations tab (this is my personal favorite!!!)

Astro Simulations - Astronomy

Biology Simulations - Biology

Chemical Reactions - Chemistry

The Physics Classroom - Physics

More Resources Linked Here - when finished browsing all of the above, you may find more that are relevant to your teaching on this site.


Unit 2 Assignment: Reflect on your Experiences

Using one of the websites or resources listed above, choose one simulations or lab that interests you and complete the lab or simulation. While participating in the virtual resource, pay attention to the positives and negatives of the simulation and how it relates to hands-on learning benefits. When finished, reflect on your experience in the following Google Form.

Reflection Form


BrainPop Educators (2016). [Screenshots of Phet interactive simulations] [Image]. BrainPop Educators. https://educators.brainpop.com/2016/06/24/phet-interactive-simulations/

Hatherly, P. (n.d.). The virtual laboratory and interactive screen experiements. https://web.phys.ksu.edu/icpe/Publications/teach2/Hatherly.pdf

Labster (2020). Labster biology virtual labs [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8LXQq5_VL0

Labster (2020). [Screenshot of introductory lab] [Image]. Labster. https://www.labster.com/simulations/introductory-lab/

Pavlou, C. (2020). What are virtual laboratories and how do they work in elearning?. TalentLMS. https://www.talentlms.com/blog/virtual-laboratories-elearning/

Vedamo (2017). [Conversing through two laptops] [Image]. Vedamo. https://www.vedamo.com/knowledge/what-is-virtual-learning/

Course Map

Unit 1: What is hands-on learning and what are the benefits of this type of instruction?

Unit 2: How can hands-on learning be done virtually?

Next Unit: Unit 3: Connecting virtual labs and resources to my curriculum

Unit 4: Design and implement a lesson containing virtual hands-on learning

Return to: ETAP 623 Fall 2020 (Zhang) | Sarah Sweazy |Hands on Learning Benefits Through Virtual Science Labs