Virtual Labs

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A Virtual Tissue Engineering Lab creates a realistic lab environment so users learn to make and characterize scaffolds used in tissue engineering. The gamification of the material provides an engaging, highly interactive learning environment and reinforces concepts presented in lecture format.

We wanted to create a tissue engineering lab which could be an entry point for students of engineering, biology, materials science to experience a multi-disciplinary lab even if they did not have prior knowledge in one of these areas. The goal here was to even the playing field, lower the barrier to experimentation and to provide a fun and engaging interactive lab which would reinforce long term learning. The learning objectives of the virtual lab were:
1) Experience a real world example which shows the importance of studying tissue engineering. In this case the user is asked to support an orthopedic surgeon who is treating an athlete who has injured his knee joint.
2) Understand the properties of common biomaterials used in tissue engineering .
3) Understand the methods to crosslink these materials to form a tissue engineering scaffold aided by animations of the crosslinking process on a molecular level.
4) Understand how a rheometer works and how it can be used to characterize the mechanical properties and gelation kinetics of the material.
5) Practice in a lab environment
The project was initiated to engage students of the course ‹Biocompatible Materials› during the exercise period. This is a large class where interactivity is often difficult to achieve. The project was first planned during a retreat with my research group. Once the story board was layed out,
we collaborated with Labster in an interative process to create a workable virtual lab. The lab is used 3 times a year in various ETH courses. The project was prompted by Sarah Frederickx, Educational Developer at D-HEST, and funded by her through the pilot fund by the `Lehrspezialistenfonds›.

The life-like virtual laboratory environment is for some students at ETH their first ‹lab› experience. The lab is gamified and provides students with information about their progress and with feedback about their learning. Their understanding is checked by having to answer questions about the experiments being performed. The response to the lab has been positive. In particular the crosslinking animations have been praised as helping the student visual the crosslinking process. The most positive accomplishment is our ability to motivate and activate students in a large class setting. Our project idea has been picked up, and the second virtual lab
at ETH Zurich will be about the Kjeldahl method including basics of LC-MS. In the physical setting, this experiment can only be performed by an assistant. To offer the opportunity to Food Science students to try it out themselves, Prof. Dr. L. Nyström with Dr. M. Erzinger will develop the virtual Lab with Labster.