Labster is the world’s leading platform for virtual labs and science simulations. The platform makes an educator’s job easier, integrating with the most popular LMS (learning management system) platforms and freeing up their time by automatically grading quiz questions and providing them with a dashboard of student performance data.
To ensure that every student has access to high-quality science education, Labster supports and engages all learners by offering popular simulations in multiple languages, featuring diverse characters on screen, and accommodating hearing and visual impairments.
The virtual science labs have been used by California State University, Harvard, Gwinnett Technical College, MIT, Exeter University, University of New Haven, Stanford, University of New England, Trinity College, University of Hong Kong and Berkeley, among others internationally.
Labster CEO, Michael Bodekaer Jensen set aside some time to discuss the platform with SCINQ.
How did the idea for Labster first come about? What was your primary goal?
Over a decade ago, when my co-founder Dr. Mads Bonde was a Ph.D. student teaching in a biotechnology lab, he noticed that his students were struggling to understand many of the topics in his course. He saw that the course materials were truly exciting yet most students were not engaging with them because they were challenging to grasp. Since I was a programmer studying the science of learning at the time, we put our heads together and developed the idea to present science in a novel way: using engaging storylines and the power of gamification technology to keep students motivated and engaged. That idea formed the basis for Labster.
It goes without saying that the amount of scientific facts/lessons that can be demonstrated can seem endless, how did you know where to start?
We start by asking “what topics do teachers need? Where are their students struggling?” If curriculum standards are important, such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), we make sure we align with them.
We don’t think every topic requires a Labster simulation. We consider which topics require a 3D interactive simulation to support conceptual understanding. We add the most value by creating 3D interactive associations that allow students to connect what they see and observe in the world with what happens on an atomic or molecular level, or with visualizations of the macroscopic world like the Earth or space.
Our goal in developing these simulations is to help students to be able to think, talk, and use science to explain the world around them.
We’re very involved with the teachers and students who test our simulations and we stay connected via our Labster Community Campus (campus.labster.com) where all science educators are welcome, regardless of whether they currently use Labster.
There are a lot of very interesting scenarios available that teach concepts such as genetic testing or isolating bacterial strains. For example, a farmer ends up in jail at the end of one scenario. What was the most important thing to consider while designing the simulations?
Keeping students motivated as they learn about complex ideas is the most important. We want our simulations to place students into a situation where they are able to observe complex interrelationships to deepen their understanding. To make sure we do that, each simulation is the result of a collaboration between scientists, pedagogy experts, and game designers.
For example, we recently released a simulation for learning about a very complex and dynamic system: the Earth’s climate. There are many interdependent social and environmental factors involved, and no easy answers to solving climate change. Since trying to understand this can make students feel overwhelmed, we use a game strategy to keep it fun. Students are given a 3D climate model in the form of a map and a group of tiles that represent land use. They can manipulate each tile and observe the result, adjusting the tiles to improve their score by balancing human activity and temperature change. This gamification helps keep learners motivated and focused, and in the process, they develop a mental model of how all the variables interconnect.
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What were some of the harder lessons to convey through simulations?
Surprisingly, the biggest challenge we have in developing simulations isn’t making complex science understandable, it’s finding the right balance between presenting learners with enough freedom to explore concepts and enough constraint to provide direction and focus. It seems like it would be great to give students unlimited freedom to explore everything, yet we’ve discovered learners become confused and frustrated without clear guidelines. Freedom needs to be meaningful.
How do you envision Labster developing in the years ahead?
Our guiding vision is to build a scalable, low-cost educational platform to enable equal access to high-quality science education for hundreds of millions of students around the world, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
We plan to develop more simulations that help schools and universities equip learners with job-ready skills. Years ago, it was common to think of a college degree as the finish line. Today, workers are reskilling and upskilling to keep pace with the impact of automation and AI on the jobs they already have. In the future, workers will learn continuously, and Labster simulations are a smart, practical, and effective approach to do that.
Do you know what the retention is like learning via simulation compared with reading books or doing a lab in real life?
There has been an expansive amount of third-party research on Labster. For example, Dr. Manuela Tripepi, a biology professor at Thomas Jefferson University, did a recent comparison of students’ grade performance with Labster vs. traditional reading materials. She discovered that students who studied with Labster performed 19% better on their tests.
We have other recent faculty field research featured on our website here: https://www.labster.com/why-you-can-be-confident-in-labster/
And some of the peer-reviewed research articles are here ( it’s difficult to keep up with them all!): https://www.labster.com/research/
How has the reception been to Labster?
When educators have the chance to play Labster, they get excited about it and start thinking of ways to use it with their students as homework or as an in-class group assignment. I think it’s important that new technology including Labster gets a “stress test” where it is used and fully understood before a school decides to invest. The truth is, the majority of educators have bought education technology over the last few years, and many of those products didn’t turn out to be the ideal solutions for their classes. That’s why we offer a trial where educators can actually choose any of our simulations, use them in their teaching, and share them with their colleagues.
Lastly, what is the potential for teaching and learning the sciences through simulations? It feels like it can potentially have a democratizing effect by making it more accessible.
As a learning platform, Labster will always have a very low floor and a very high ceiling. We will continue to make our simulation platform compatible with mobile and lower-end devices and in multiple languages so we can reach as many learners as possible. I believe the scientists who will help solve our most vexing challenges – who will cure cancer and reverse climate change – are already of school age. We don’t know who they are or where they are, yet we can help every teacher to empower their students to learn with Labster.