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Design considerations for virtual laboratories: A comparative study of two virtual laboratories for learning about gas solubility and colour appearance

Journal article
Authors Beata Stahre Wästberg
Göran Karlsson
Maria Sunnerstam
Michael Axelsson
Monica Billger
Published in Education and Information Technologies
Volume 24
Issue 3
Pages 2059-2080
ISSN 13602357
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pedagogical Development and Interactive Learning (PIL)
Pages 2059-2080
Language en
Keywords Cloned and enhanced laboratories, Design considerations, Interactive learning environments, Interdisciplinary projects, User evaluation, Virtual laboratories
Subject categories Design, Interaction Technologies, Human Aspects of ICT, Learning


© 2019, The Author(s). Building a virtual laboratory for teaching and learning is a highly complex process, incorporating diverse areas such as interaction design, visualisation, and pedagogy. This article focuses on the production and implementation issues that were found in the comparison of two different virtual laboratory projects, and discuss which design considerations can be drawn from these observations. Two web-based virtual laboratories - the Gas Laboratory and the Virtual Colour Laboratory - were developed independently of each other within two different content areas. The laboratories share considerable overlaps in goals and production circumstances. Through a comparison of production and outcome, similar problems related to design, development and implementation were observed. The research uses a mixed method approach combining quantitative pre- and post-tests for assessments, qualitative surveys, and qualitative, ethnographic observations and interviews. By comparing the background material, five design challenges for developing virtual laboratories are identified: 1) how to balance ambitions with available resources; 2) how to balance intended levels of user interaction with exploratory freedom; 3) how to find appropriate levels of realism depending on target group; 4) how to choose between mimicking real world appearance and enhanced features; and 5) how to find the best learning situation for the virtual laboratory. To meet these challenges, the following design considerations are proposed: Guide the design work with a clear understanding of purpose and context; select appropriate technology to ensure efficient design and media usage; select level of realism considering purpose and end users; and provide learning guides before and after the virtual lab session.

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