DEVELOPMENT OF A VIRTUAL LABORATORY EXPERIMENT FOR CHEMISTRY STUDENTS
Laboratory-based learning allows students to experience science principles at first hand, so it is a main resource in science teaching. Laboratory trainings are often limited to just a few sessions because are costly (equipments and consumables) and time consuming for the staff. Furthermore, in studies where the performance of students using text-based instructions were compared with those given more responsibility for conducting the experiment, it was found that the latter group was more engaged and acquired enhanced reasoning skills. To encourage active learning, no tutor-prepared handouts were available for students using our on-line guidance.
The virtual practices become an interesting solution to limit educational laboratory costs without constraining learning opportunities. Also in this case, further direct experimentation on real systems should be considered after the preliminary remote practice, but limited to a better understanding of the course topics. In this way, on-line experiment can be powerful auxiliary didactic tool for the students in order to help them to become acquainted with the instrument and its controls and basic laboratory operations. This helps in reducing training costs by restricting the tutored activities only to substantial matters.
Distance learning allows to limit the costs for continuous training both by providing in-house educational facilities that can be used with a flexible and adaptable schedule and by reducing the time spent in an educational laboratory. The flexibility of the environment allows for supporting different kind of didactic activities, while the teacher will be responsible of selecting the most suited approach to be used according to the specific needs of the students and the desired curricula.
We wished to move away from whole class demonstrations and instead encourage a more student-focused learning of procedures to enhance autonomous learning. Benefits included: development of more autonomous learners; more time to pool and analyse class data, and demonstrators’ time being used for higher-level interaction with students. Other advantages of this learning system are an initial approach to instruments, measurement procedures and applications supporting students in familiarizing themselves with complex instruments and analytical problems; the system is adapted to different kinds of students with different needs and backgrounds, and several tutoring aids can be used with different types of interactions between students and educators.
A virtual practice about liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry analysis for chemistry students has been developed. The instrumentation needed for this practice is expensive so it is not available in educational laboratories. For this reason, the practices which use this equipment are only carried out in a theoretical way. Therefore, a better understanding of the involved phenomena and measurement problems could be achieved with the virtual application.