Most of us will recall the lab period for science subjects and the peculiar smell of ammonia/sulphuric acid, the sight of frogs and other specimens and the equipment to learn about concepts like mass and light. This was crucial in increasing a student’s scientific temper but with technological advances and the push towards online learning during the pandemic leaves people wondering if students are learning less than they were earlier? What happens to the “practicals”? Will technology replace them?
Now technology has helped improve present processes and provide better outcomes, even in education. Some basic innovations are the use of projectors and smart boards in classrooms. However, when it comes to the lab practicals, there are two viewpoints. One says that we can do away with lab and use the latest simulation, graphics, robotics and other aids that can provide real-life visuals. Others point out that videos and simulations can create visuals but the sense of touch, smell and taste will not be employed for a complete experience. While a supercomputer may be able to to do millions of calculations in a fraction of a second, human has to keep an eye on its performance. This means that technology is merely an enabler for some basic processes. Thus, human intervention is needed, regardless of technological advances.
During the pandemic, we learnt to do many things in a new way and evolve methods to suit the needs of the time. This can be applied to the laboratory practical as well. The lab practical is important mainly in science subjects. A majority of these are not relevant for many job roles and are exclusively meant for scientific disciplines like medicine, biotechnology, pharmacy, nuclear sciences and so on. Thus it may be possible to rationalise the experiments for non-scientific disciplines and use technology to impart knowledge in the laboratory.
New-age technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Machine Learning have enhanced user experiences and can be used to create an ‘experiment curriculum’ that provides a reasonable learning framework for the non-scientific disciplines. These can be quick, save physical resources on the student’s and the school’s part and be less harmful to the environment. Wherever necessary, these can be supplemented with physical experiments to provide deeper insights.
Today, the education industry is leveraging technology to impart scientific knowledge in a better manner and working to create a network learning in which human interactions are used alongside technology to enhance the experience. When it comes to laboratory experiments, however, we need to balance the two and see how far technology can add value and optimise learning.
The writer is the Co-Founder, InkClick