STEM Virtual Labs must go far beyond just mimicking physical labs

Balaji Venkataraman - July 6, 2023

What comes to your mind when someone refers to a “virtual lab” for K12 schools ? Typical thoughts are:

  • It is some sort of “digital Science lab”, that can run on laptops and mobile devices
  • They are a replacement for physical labs

Well, these could be the basic definitions of a “virtual lab”. These are the “minimum” capabilities one should expect from virtual lab products. But there is no reason why a student or teacher should not expect significantly more than those “basic definitions”. Technological advancements are occurring more rapidly than ever before. It is thus imperative that OEMs and product engineers leverage cutting edge technologies to deliver a world class virtual lab product that continuously innovates with an aim to provide a superlative user experience for science teachers and students.

Do you know the relevance of Archimedes’ principle, Snell's law or Pascal’s law in real life ? Why do students learn about these topics as if they are just irrelevant theories ? Beauty of these theories is that they solve some of most challenging problems for humanity today, but most student don’t realize it. They end up memorizing by rote and soon forget about it -- resulting in a massive waste of human resources !!

Our illustrious leader PM Modi-ji, stressed upon the need for Virtual labs as he opened the agenda of NEP (National Education Policy 2020) sometime back. He said “Virtual labs will transform the education system”. NEP 2020 emboldens each one of us to embrace a “transformative” change – not an incremental one.

With excitement around NEP, several virtual lab makers are mushrooming in the market today. Most of them really don’t qualify to be called virtual labs in the true sense, as they just “mimic” the lab exercises printed in text books. Virtual labs don’t do justice if they provide plain lab exercises in their product. With new age gaming technologies, we have a grand opportunity to transcend to significantly higher levels by simulating real world scenarios. Connecting the dots between scientific concepts and real applications should be an important agenda for virtual lab products.

According to the National Assessment Surveys conducted once every 2 years, the overall outcome for students of Science (in K12) is “poor” with the learning outcomes decreasing with increasing grades. Only about 45% of Government schools are equipped with science labs. There is absolutely every reason to rely on virtual labs to bridge the canyon of a gap.

But lets remember that we don’t need to progress step by step to achieve major milestones. India skipped the Black and White TVs to quickly adopt color TVs back in the ‘80s. Similarly, we skipped the “pagers” to quickly adopt mobile phones. Why don’t we take a similar leap once more and adopt virtual labs that go far beyond “text book prescribed lab exercises”. Lets go bold , and simulate real world applications. This is what will ignite critical thinking abilities and spark the genius that’s inherent within the minds of our young generation.

ScholARlab develops best-in-class virtual labs for K12. Our mission is to connect scientific concepts to application oriented real world scenarios. While their simulations enable lab based experiments, more than 50% of the simulations go beyond what school labs can offer. ScholARlab’s virtual lab product ScholAR is a treasure trove of 3D interactive simulations addressing 500+ topics to make learning of science highly impactful. ScholARlab is amongst the top 3 virtual lab makers globally with regards to richness of content, scalability and adoption. Scholarlab will deploy ScholAR to more than 500,000+ students and teachers in India, SE Asia and the USA in this academic year 2023-24.