The Wind Tunnel was one of the most exciting lab courses in my engineering degree, although I never got to work on the wind tunnel personally. Our professor performed the experiment we took down the results, and that is it, we were shooed away to fill our lab records. It made me feel left out, but we were at least lucky to have a wind tunnel.
It also made me think about schools and colleges who could not afford to have a lab, let alone a wind tunnel. Virtually-simulated laboratories could be the solution.
VIRTUAL LABS CHANGING THE FUTURE
Classroom technology is evolving and switching to the digital world, something we never imagined a few years ago. Virtual laboratories are the next big thing waiting to take over the EdTech space.
While visiting a government school in the heart of the city, I found some students sitting on the floor, while some sitting under a tree during classes. When basic infrastructure such as furniture and classrooms are absent, a science lab might be something that students in such schools might never have access to.
Many institutions cannot afford expensive instruments and equipment, or they cannot afford to purchase sufficient equipment for all the students. Virtual laboratories could be the answer as they are considerably cheaper and do not require huge spending on infrastructure.
Komalkar, a primary school teacher in Nagaland trudges every day up a hilltop through a dense jungle where he conducts classes for 15 students (grade 3 to 8) from neighboring villages.
Setting up a science lab in such remote schools is difficult, and authorities feel it is not worth the efforts. Virtual laboratories can fill the gap by providing power and cloud-based or offline resources (CD/Memory cards/pen drives).
Imagine a science class of 11th grade with 60 students and a physics lab with only ten simple pendulum apparatus. The class should be split into batches to accommodate every student. The problem is each student will not get the sufficient time to experiment. Virtual laboratories can give every student the flexibility to repeat, learn, explore, and examine every experiment at their own pace. Students need not worry about the next person in line.
Keeping a lab up-to-date is another challenge. In some schools, lab instruments are passed down from generation to generation. Some are preserved, and some are neglected while others go out of relevance. With virtual laboratories, updating a lab can be as easy as updating your smartphone.
The need to access hard-to-find resources- like a frog for dissection can also be eliminated with a virtual laboratory.
Skilled teachers are a scarce resource. Even the best school lab will be useless unless it is taught well. With virtual laboratories, one skilled teacher can record and circulate the lesson amongst students everywhere. The lesson will be delivered with the same consistency every single time.
As a student, I feared breaking glassware or spilling sulfuric acid in my chemistry lab. I have also lost count of the number of resistors we have burnt in the electronics lab.
Traditional labs involve harmful and fragile objects. Students can damage the equipment or get injured while experimenting. Virtual Laboratories can eliminate these risks as everything is virtually simulated.
With proper use of AR, VR, and MR, we can provide insights that are beyond imagination in traditional labs. For example, you can virtually observe a nuclear reaction or see the flow of electrons in electrolysis. The possibilities are endless.
In India, steps are already taken in this direction.
Virtual Labs from MHRD
Virtual-Labs is an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) that provides remote access to labs in various disciplines of science and engineering. These labs are dedicated to UG students, PG students, and research scholars.
BYJU’S The Learning App
The Edtech Decacorn BYJU’S has recently acquired LabInApp to prop their services for the K-12 segment. LabInApp is a virtual learning platform that enables students and teachers to perform scientific experiments on devices such as tablets and smartphones, thus eliminating the need for an expensive laboratory set-up. BYJU’S will harness their technological and pedagogical expertise in creating engaging E‑learning content and innovate LabInApp’s product range. It will definitely be an exciting space to watch and see how BYJU’S will take this learning experience a notch higher.
It is now time for virtualization, augmented reality, virtual reality, how can labs be left behind, they will have to embrace virtualization. Let us know what is your take on this?