Type of Proposal

Visual Presentation (Poster, Installation, Demonstration)

Streaming Media


Faculty of Science

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Dora Cavallo-Medved

Start Date

24-3-2015 1:00 PM

End Date

24-3-2015 1:50 PM

Importance of the Project

  • Provide undergraduate students with an opportunity to work with an instructor, and contribute to the first year undergraduate curriculum and learning experience
  • Improve the quality of the laboratory experiments for existing and future undergraduate students

Hands-on activities are an integral component of science teaching labs, however, with increases in class sizes and budgetary constraints, these approaches are becoming more restrictive, and therefore, less common. As such, many instructors have moved towards online learning and virtual lab simulations. On the other hand, critics have argued against this virtual approach due to the lack of hands-on experience. In this proposed project, we aim to combine both the virtual learning experience and hands-on activities in the first-year biology teaching labs as a blended learning approach that will enhance the effectiveness of these laboratory exercises. Blended learning approaches have shown to enhance student learning by reinforcing the subject material through a variety of teaching and learning strategies. This is of particular significance to student populations that have variable learning styles, such as those found in first-year biology courses, which consist of both biology majors and other science students.

In this project, a team of undergraduate student researchers worked closely with the course instructor and lab coordinator for the first-year biology courses to explore the application of virtual labs within the teaching lab curriculum to complement and enhance the current hands-on learning activities. This blended learning approach reinforces the subject material and provides more opportunities for self-assessment and evaluation. This research project has also allowed the student researchers opportunities for self-reflection and growth regarding their own learning and teaching practices, thus enhancing their own undergraduate experience.

Existing State of Knowledge

In the past, other groups of undergraduate students have worked on similar projects to enhance first year biology teaching labs. These students analyzed previous lab exercises, and reinforced them through different learning techniques. At the end of the project, students who had completed the first year Biology courses were asked to test the new lab exercises and provide feedback. Students filled out surveys and rated both the old version of the lab they had already taken, and new version of the lab, using a 5 point Likert scale. This project was shown to be successful as the rating of the new version of the lab was significantly higher than that of the old version.

Research Question

To investigate the application of a virtual experience to complement and enhance the current hands-on approach in the first year undergraduate biology teaching labs.


  • Online resources were used to compile and update pre-lab exercises for the Mitosis/ Meiosis Lab and the Population Ecology Lab; virtual components were added including online videos and quizzes.
  • The existing labs were edited to reflect changes in pre-lab exercises, a hands-on activity was created to help students visualize the cell cycle for the Mitosis/Meiosis Lab.
  • The results were analyzed by having first year students who had just completed the Cell Biology and Biodiversity courses perform the pre-lab and lab exercises and fill out surveys to compare their ratings with the previous ratings of other students who tested the older lab exercises.
  • The data was compiled into bar graphs.

Your Findings

  • Overall, blended learning techniques improved the average rating, out of 5, of both labs.
  • Mitosis & Meiosis lab increased from 2.87 to 3.58
  • Forces of Evolution lab increased from 3.14 to 3.60
  • Interactive pre-lab videos allowed students to explore the concepts presented in each lab at their own pace
  • Pre-lab self-assessment questions allowed students to gauge their understanding of the topic before attempting the in-lab activities
  • Pre-lab videos and activities provided materials that visualized concepts, thereby allowing students to better grasp the mechanisms of Mitosis and Meiosis and the processes of Population Genetics
  • The additional interactive activities provided a more hands-on approach to the Mitosis & Meiosis lab exercises, making the concept more clear to students
  • As Undergraduate Researchers, we learned that students benefit from different teaching mechanisms, and that resources and time are limiting factors when designing lab exercises to complement material learned in lecture.

Mitosis & Meiosis Lab:

“The animations are visually appealing, easy to follow, and provided just the right amount of detail.”

“It was helpful to have questions on the website alongside the simulations to make sure concepts were grasped.”

“[The lab was] very hands-on, therefore it was very helpful in depicting all of the [Mitosis/ Meiosis] stages.”

“The blue cells and yellow nuclei were very helpful in demonstrating what happened to the cell and nuclear membrane during mitosis and meiosis.”

Forces of Evolution Pre-Lab:

“[The pre-lab] enhanced my understanding of lab material and made me feel actively engaged in my learning.”

“Overall, I am very happy to know the Biology department values the opinions of their students.”


Mar 24th, 1:00 PM Mar 24th, 1:50 PM

Applying a virtual experience to complement first year undergraduate biology teaching labs