Put Your Lab Coats On! : Virtual Labs By MHRD
While the Coronavirus pandemic still rages on in different countries across the globe, social distancing is the only effective measure until a global vaccine ready for mass production is developed. Consequently, classroom learning has come to an unprecedented halt. However, the internet has come to rescue as Online Video Conferencing Apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been used as platforms for imparting education. Pre-recorded videos of lectures and live sessions are being organized for helping with the same. However, there is one area where these methods do not quite live up to the standards of classroom learning and that is lab learning.
Lab learning certainly plays an indispensable role as it provides an insight into how things operate in the real world hence helping the students get a better grasp of their core subjects. With an exception of a few lab courses that can be performed via simulation and other such software, most labs require extensive hands-on and real-world observation and the pre-recorded videos of the experiments do not do much justice.
In such a dire scenario, the Virtual Labs Program launched back in 2012 by MHRD (presently Ministry of Education) could come in handy.
For some context, let's look at an overview of the initiative.
What are Virtual Labs?
Virtual labs are intended to augment the learning of subjects through performing experiments. A remote triggered LAN allows a user to connect to real equipment using a web browser. This initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources, India has currently around 150 labs and over 1500 experiments at various stages of development and deployment.
Objectives of the initiative
To provide remote access to labs in various disciplines.
To arouse curiosity in students and help them to learn concepts through remote experimentation.
Access to web-resources videos. Animated demonstrations and self-evaluation.
To provide access to resources earlier available to only a limited number of users due to constraints of time and physical locations.
It is said to be user-friendly and interactive, employing concepts of 3D modelling, visualization, manipulation, and control.
Types Of Virtual Labs
I) Simulation-Based Virtual Labs
In these labs, the experiments are modelled using mathematical equations. The simulations are carried out remotely at a high-end server, and the results are communicated to the student over the internet.
II) Remote Triggered
In these labs, the actual experiments are triggered remotely. The output of the experiment is communicated back to the student over the internet. This class of labs gives the student the output of real-time experiments. They are difficult to scale & can cater to a limited number of users. Typically, time-slots are booked before conducting such experiments.
Beneficiaries of the initiative
All students, faculty members of Science and Engineering colleges who do not have access to good lab-facilities and instruments, high school students whose inquisitiveness will be triggered, motivating them to take up higher studies, researchers in different institutes who can collaborate, share equipment and resources would be benefitted.
The project has completely fulfilled the requirements of the targeted beneficiaries. An eco-system has evolved around them, where the community has become involved in evolving and benefitting from the project.
What the initiative gets right
Colleges that use virtual labs have access to cutting-edge technology when it comes to experimentation. Companies that build and maintain virtual labs must compete with each other to stay ahead of technology progression and that raises the quality of options for students. With a virtual lab, students do not have to settle on outdated, yet expensive equipment, which any school/college cannot afford to replace. Experiments no longer have a “one chance” option and students can analyze what went wrong immediately and give it another shot.
Successful technical training requires a hands-on element to facilitate knowledge retention. Research has revealed that learners forget 70 per cent or more of what they are taught through more traditional training methods such as lectures or demonstrations. Whereas, learners who master skills through participation retain almost 75 per cent of what they are taught! The virtual learning environment provided in a cloud-based lab allows students to gain this vital hands-on experience.
Seven IITs (Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Roorkee, and Guwahati), IIIT Hyderabad, Amrita University, Dayalbagh University, NIT Karnataka, and College of Engineering, Pune, are the institutions participating in the project. Some of the institutes that are much lower on the NIRF Rankings 2020 are a part of the program while NIT Rourkela isn't.
Although even the most detailed simulation cannot replace an actual experiment, still, we have got virtual labs as the best option for us. The future awaits and we hope to see the participating institutes to proliferate along with the advent of the technology in our institute with all its advantages.