Written by Nasrine Yacoub, a 2015 Galbraith winner from York University.
In the research study, “Student Learning in Science Simulations: Design Features that Promote Learning Gains”, the authors carefully navigate through a series of studies, highlighting both the benefits as well as the limitations associated with the implementation of simulations and virtual instruction in the Sciences. The driving force behind the emergence of simulations has been the growing number of setbacks associated with traditional hands-on laboratories. Such setbacks include the reduction of funding available for the set-up of laboratories and the maintained high costs of laboratory materials and equipment, all of which make it difficult to provide an effective learning environment (Scalise, et al., 2011). Additionally, there is a growing concern for the liabilities associated with allowing students to work with potentially dangerous chemicals and other equipment in a laboratory (Scalise et al., 2011). The concern for student safety is a priority and traditional labs can pose a threat to this safety. As an alternative to traditional laboratory experimentation and activities, simulations of scientific phenomena as well as virtual simulations of lab experimentation have presented unique benefits to students when implemented in a manner that supports successful student learning outcomes. This article is intended to provide a summary of the benefits as well as the caveats associated with utilizing technology to provide a learning experience that is on par with the traditional lab experience.