Digital Labs & Simulations 101

Decorative: An image of a Labaster lab


A. "Digital Labs and Simulations" (web page) introduces these online tools, explains what they are, when they are useful, and what features make them useful.

  • "Digital labs and simulations have been developed in many scientific disciplines, from physics to biology, from chemistry to earth sciences, and are sometimes intended to replace labs and other times intended to supplement face-to-face instruction."
  • "Collections of these digital labs and simulations can be found at many sites."

1. What Are They?

  • Digital lab: "an interactive, online tool in which students are asked to mimic an experiment"
  • Simulations: "non-static representations of physical phenomena; that is, representations that seek to show movement of elements that make up a physical phenomenon."
    • "Simulations may or may not have an interactive element (that is, students may be able to initiate the phenomenon) and are typically briefer than digital labs."

2. When Are They Useful?

  • "[W]hen you don’t have access to the real materials."
  • "[W]ith visualization of invisible phenomena, especially if movement or change is important and hard to see with still images."
  • "[A]s supporting material in lectures or for homework."
  • "[A]s prelab preparation."
  • So "students [can] see the difference between theory and reality."
  • "[F]or replacing experiments that take too long to complete in real time."

3. What Features Make Them Useful?

  • Simple technology, "allowing students to focus on the science rather than the technology."
  • "[G]ood guiding questions that focus students’ attention." 
  • "[G]raphical output that changes with students’ input."
  • "[Q]uestions that students answer and on which they receive feedback to help them assess understanding."
  • Flexibility, "allowing 'playing around space.'"
  • Outcomes that matter: "The outcome of the digital lab or work on the simulation should be a product that “counts” and therefore matters to students."


B. Some Other Resources