Assessing the impact of a virtual lab in an allied health program
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Demonstrating laboratory skills and competency in a hands-on laboratory requires effective pre-laboratory preparation, knowledge, and experience, all of which can be difficult to achieve using traditional teaching methods. The virtual lab is intended to facilitate effective preparation and to aid in the acquisition of skills in the microbiology laboratory. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of an online virtual lab as a learning tool in an allied health program. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analyzed to assess student attitudes towards the virtual lab. A convergent parallel mixed method design was chosen to compare the data from a Likert survey, open-ended questions, and a think-aloud protocol. The data converged to support the assertion that students had a positive attitude towards using the virtual lab. The virtual lab made skill acquisition easier and faster, helped them prepare for hands-on laboratory sessions, and was a tool they would use again without the need of extrinsic motivational factors. The key benefit of the virtual lab was that it enabled students to visualize procedures and reactions outside of the traditional laboratory setting. The study supports the conclusion that prior student visualization of procedures and reactions enhanced preparedness and performance in the laboratory environment.