“At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, when it became clear that we were not coming fully back to campus, there were conversations in the science departments about how we should approach labs,” says Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín, Ph.D., associate program director of PRISM and adjunct assistant professor of biology. “I knew it was important for students to retain the sense of being in a lab. One of the products I recommended to the department was Labster, a digital platform for virtual science lab simulations.” CUNY Central agreed that the program was a good solution for virtual labs and provided Labster to all CUNY campuses. After getting Labster approved, Sanabria-Valentín went to work redesigning classes and creating Labster demonstrations for students working remotely. His efforts paid off both in student participation and some well-deserved recognition. Sanabria-Valentín was awarded Labster’s 2022 STEM Excellence Award.
How did you introduce Labster to students?
Students would meet with me on Zoom and I would complete technical demonstrations with all the different lab equipment. I thought it was important to do the demonstrations live because it would give students a more personal connection. After a short lecture with a question-and-answer session, the students would then perform the lab on Labster with a partner. That way they’d have someone to talk to if they ran into trouble. If their partner couldn’t figure it out, they’d call me. It worked well. They started connecting with each other and really enjoyed the platform.
What do you think students gain with Labster?
I found that students who used Labster felt more confident when they stepped into an in-person lab. Because they tried it out virtually, they moved through the steps with a lot less apprehension. Having students work on Labster translated to in-person labs going smoother with a lot less mistakes and basic questions. They came into the in-person lab prepared and ready to go. At the end of fall 2021, I did a student poll. They really appreciated the freedom Labster gave them to try out different procedures in a virtual space.
How is Labster being used now that in-person labs are back in full swing?
It’s particularly useful for introductory classes like microbiology and gen bio. PRISM and the biology department have been doing clinics over the summer and winter for students who don’t have lab experience or don’t feel comfortable in a lab. They come in for two or three days and we give them a basic primer on Labster. The Department of Online Education & Support was also incredible in helping us merge our Labster curriculum with Blackboard. So, the platform feels natural for students who are already used to taking remote and hybrid classes.
How did it feel to be awarded Labster’s STEM Excellence Award?
To be recognized amongst science instructors across the globe and getting this positive feedback felt great. It’s good to know that others are seeing the efforts we’re making to meet the students where they are. I love teaching STEM education. When I teach a class, I have two goals. First, I want them to learn new things that may inspire them to pursue careers in science. The second thing is that I want them to be entertained. The worst thing that can happen in my class is to see a student bored. If I cannot hold their attention, then I’m doing something wrong. Having students learn about a lab, then do the lab in a video-game setting gets them excited. I love to see that excitement in their eyes.