Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) are delighted to report that a record 247 science students participated this year in their ‘Virtual Labs’ project. This exciting and new way of learning is a testament to the Institute’s commitment to innovation and their passion for embracing emerging technologies within their learning community. The ‘Virtual Labs’ project is HCI-funded and represents an avenue to complement and support DkIT’s science students’ laboratory-based, practical learning. It provides them with access to a suite of interactive and engaging virtual simulation learning activities which have been generated by the EdTech partner associated with the project, Labster. Learners can explore real-world scenarios, and applications of their on-campus laboratory based learning, while at the same time build confidence in their abilities and understanding.
The aim of this project is to develop work ready graduates and afford them both technical skills, and transversal skills such as project management, communication and team working. This project enhances engagement and student success in the learning of practical techniques and the understanding of key concepts across the bio/chemical sciences through a blended approach complementing a real laboratory face-to-face experience with a virtual laboratory experience.
Dr. Ronan Bree, lecturer in the Department of Life & Health Science and an academic lead on the Virtual Labs project at DkIT said. “Our small group practical sessions are an essential component of our programmes, engaging the learner in many aspects of learning as well as skill development. Our staff design the format of these interactive sessions to develop problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and data analysis skills, amongst others – all occurring while the students hone their technical abilities. Ultimately, the combination of these skills and attributes can significantly enhance their confidence and employability”.
Students have reacted positively to the use of virtual simulations in their practical learning experiences. Daina Carroll, a final year B.Sc Pharmaceutical Science student at DkIT noted “…for me, virtual lab simulations as complementary tools to our in-person lab sessions really helped my learning...I loved the fact that we were able to repeat an experiment many times until we could fully understand and reinforce the learning. It was also helpful if you made a mistake, as you were able to trace your steps back, or just restart the whole experiment, whereas you couldn't really do that in an actual lab”.
The past year has been an extremely productive period for this project and has seen the Higher Education Authority (HEA) complete a site visit review of the project, the establishment of a DkIT student advisory group, enterprise partner webinars, an industry, staff and student workshop around practical curricula, an alumni career event and research evaluations of the student and staff experience of engaging with these simulations for learning. DkIT were particularly delighted to receive input from their industry partners who include WuXi Biologics, Carbon Coaching, NIBRT, WuXi Vaccines Ireland and Almac Group. This regional industry support has been a key enabler of the success of this project in DkIT.
Virtual Labs is a multi-institutional project, led by Maynooth University in conjunction with DkIT, TUS-Athlone, UCC, and DCU. DkIT’s core academic team on this initiative include Dr. Ronan Bree, Dr. Bernard Drumm who are the academic leads, Dr. Sinead Loughran with responsibility for enterprise engagement, Dr. Bridget Kelly with responsibility for student engagement and Dr. Caoimhin Griffin who’s remit is data analysis.
Dr Bree Added “I’d also like to thank all those who have supported us within our Institute which contributed to this project’s success, from our inspiring students and advisory group, departmental staff, school management, CELT and colleagues who volunteered to moderate focus groups, institutional staff in IT, finance, administration and procurement”.
The project runs until the end of March 2025.
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