Project 1 – VITAL

The aim is to develop a Virtual Interactive TrAining Lab (VITAL) for use by undergraduate students studying chemistry in the School of Life Sciences.

Chemistry laboratory-based practicals are vital in providing opportunities for students to underpin and better conceptualise theoretical concepts taught in lectures and to develop their practical skills which are often relevant in future employment. It is well known from the literature and module feedback that many students are kinaesthetic learners and find practicals very useful. Student feedback also says that they would like more practice and time in the laboratory. Whilst it would be desirable to increase the number of laboratory-based practicals, there are limitations to the number which can be run. Virtual laboratory experiments provide students with opportunities to gain more experience outside the laboratory through repetitive practice.1

VITAL will employ a Leap Motion controller, which allows you to control items on a computer screen by simply moving your hands and fingers in the air, e.g. point at, select and even pick up and move items as if handling real objects. The controller can be connected to any computer via
a USB port. Apps will be created focussing on a particular skill, e.g. titration, concentration calculations, or topic e.g. mass spectrometry, fluorimetry. Each app will include practical activities supported by explanation and instruction on the background theory. Apps will also include interactive exercises e.g. multiple choice questions with formative feedback to help students assess their understanding. There will be links to peer-reviewed scientific literature to familiarise students with this type of material and to promote enquiry-based learning. The project is a student-centred approach to learning. Whilst each app will have a core practical activity, it is intended that there will be flexibility for students to use the app as best suits their needs. VITAL may be used by students at all stages e.g. as pre-laboratory practical preparation, follow-up repetition of a laboratory-based practical to further understanding of the underpinning principles or for revision. Students would need a controller which could be provided on a loan-basis to enable them to study wherever and whenever suits, or could be made available to them in IT labs. Whilst virtual laboratories have been used in chemistry education previously2, to the best of our knowledge, this would be the first example using a Leap Motion controller.

The project will be an interdisciplinary collaboration between students and staff from the Schools of Life Science and Computer Science. Two students, one from each school, will be instrumental in the development of VITAL in collaboration with the academic staff from each school who will provide discipline-specific guidance. A questionnaire will be given to life science students studying chemistry-based modules to seek their views about the practicals and aspects found challenging. This feedback will be used to design the initial VITAL apps as a pilot study to allow feedback to be collected and improvements made. Following the pilot study, it is intended that further apps would be produced and implemented.

[1] Raineri, D. (2001) Virtual laboratories enhance traditional undergraduate biology laboratories, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 29, 160-162
[2] Woodfield et al. (2004) The virtual ChemLab project: A realistic and sophisticated simulation of inorganic qualitative analysis, Journal of Chemical Education, 81, 1672

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