Virtual lab reinvents Second Life as learning tool
University of Leicester makes experiments SWIFT
TechLife | 10 May 2012 :
Academics at the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics are testing the effectiveness of virtual reality as a means to improve undergraduate students' learning experiences. The SWIFT lab, developed by GENIE (Genetics Education Networking for Innovation & Excellence) in association with the Beyond Distance Research Alliance allows students to complete complex and time-consuming experiments in minutes.
SWIFT (Second World Immersive Future Teaching), uses the online virtual world Second Life to create tailor-made learning environments, helping teachers solve a variety of practical teaching challenges.
Dr Suzanne Lavelle, teaching fellow on the SWIFT project, said: "A lot of research has shown that virtual experiences can count as real experiences in people's minds, but there hasn't been any real research into how effective it is as a tool for education. We felt that using the virtual environment might help students engage more with the theory of what they're doing when they're working in the laboratory."
The virtual genetics lab is designed to demonstrate several genetic testing procedures to students; some of which would take up to three hours in a real lab. Thanks to onscreen displays and pop-up animations, the virtual lab can demonstrate the theory behind the genetic tests whilst allowing students to complete practical experiments.
Dr Lavelle continued: "What we've mainly seen is that students love it,and that's half the battle won, because then students turn up for their classes with a positive frame of mind. It also has an element of anonymity to it, because students won't necessarily know what another person's avatar looks like and who they're talking to in the virtual world.
If the study proves a success, Dr Lavelle hopes to keep the virtual labs going and make them available to the public as an open educational resource.