Background. Over the last few decades, in developing nations including India, there have been rapid developments in information and communication technologies with progress towards sustainable development goals facilitating universal access to education. With the aim of augmenting laboratory skill training, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)’s National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT), launched Virtual laboratories project, enabling professors and institutions to deliver interactive animations, mathematical simulators and remotely-controlled equipment for online experiments in biosciences and engineering courses. Towards that mission of improving teaching and learning quality and with a focus on improving access to users in geographically remote and economically constrained institutes in India, we developed and deployed over 30 web-based laboratories consisting of over 360 computer-based online experiments. This paper focuses on the design, development, deployment of virtual laboratories and assesses the role of online experiments in providing self-learning and novel pedagogical practices for user communities.
Methods. As part of deployment, we evaluated the role virtual laboratories in facilitating self-organized learning and usage perception as a teaching tool in a blended education system. Direct feedback data was collected through organized workshops from 386 university-level students, 192 final year higher secondary school (pre-university) students and 234 college professors from various places across India. We also included online feedback from 2012-2018 to interpret usage analysis and adaptability of virtual and remote labs by online users.
Results. More than 80% of students who used virtual laboratories scored higher in examinations compared to a control group. With 386 students, 80% suggested adapted to self-learning using virtual laboratories. 82% of university teachers who employ virtual laboratories indicated using them to complement teaching material and reduce teaching time. Increase in online usage and feedback suggests novel trends in incorporating online platforms as pedagogical tools.
Discussion. Feedback indicated virtual laboratories altered and enhanced student’s autonomous learning abilities and improved interaction in blended classrooms. Pedagogical analysis suggests the use of ICT-enabled virtual laboratories as a self-organized distance education learning platform for university and pre-university students from economically challenged or time-restrained environments. Online usage statistics indicated steady increase of new users on this online repository suggesting global acceptance of virtual laboratories as a complementing laboratory skill-training online repository.