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How higher education institutions have adapted the concept of virtual laboratories

Internet connectivity and cost of software licenses remains major challenges for the varsities to scale up virtual laboratories.

Virtual laboratory provides real-time working experience to students in a simulated environment.
Virtual laboratory provides real-time working experience to students in a simulated environment.

In today’s day and age education is all about learning and experimenting on digital. As a result, virtual laboratories are in vogue. “The virtual laboratory  at the institute is a replica of a physical laboratory  in which students are able to perform experiments virtually from any place,”  PB Venkataraman, professor- engineering group and associate dean, Digital Learning – Work Integrated Learning Program, BITS Pilani told FE Education Online. 

To be sure, a virtual laboratory is not just limited to software, one needs the entire ecosystem which includes cloud hosting and access control along with instruction and support. Earlier, virtual laboratory oratory  were specifically focused on domains including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  Now this concept has expanded horizon and is being used in the medical domain. For instance, MediSim VR, a med-tech company has set up a Virtual Reality (VR) laboratory  at the Puducherry Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS). “The idea behind the VR laboratory oratory  is to provide professional training to the students before they actually start working physically. We will launch new content for nursing and allied health professionals as well,” Dr. Adith Chinnaswami, co-founder, said. The company claims to have partnered with two universities in India. It charges an annual subscription fee of Rs 15,000 per student. Presently the VR laboratory  is accessible to third and fourth year medical students, he claimed.

Besides, management institutes too have jumped on the bandwagon.  The All India Management Association (AIMA) Virtual Business laboratory oratory at JK Lakshmipat University (JKLU) offers experiential learning to the management students. “These laboratories enable students to gain experience on how they can manage businesses in the real world,” Dheeraj Sanghi, vice chancellor, JKLU, said. These laboratories consist of two models — a single model helps students to learn on their own at individual simulation level by competing against Artificial Intelligence (AI) while under workshop model a certified faculty runs the simulation programme along with  curriculum.

However, setting up of these virtual laboratories in addition to operating is packed with its own set of challenges. For instance, Internet connectivity with good bandwidth poses a big challenge. “There is always a pedagogical difference between hands-on experiments and simulation programs in virtual laboratory oratory  as all nitigrities of physical experiments cannot be captured through the simulation models,” Shubhajit Roy Chowdhury, associate professor, School of Computing and Electrical Engineering, IIT Mandi, noted. The varsities claim that the cost to set up a virtual laboratory is between the range of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. Furthermore, industry experts opined that costs related to license and cloud hosting are other challenges for the universities to incorporate these laboratories. 

Read also: Parliamentary panel recommends review of introducing humanities courses in technology institutions

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