Virtual Lab Integration in Undergraduate Courses: Insights from Course Design and Implementation


  • Maria Papaconstantinou University of Toronto
  • Dawn Kilkenny University of Toronto
  • Christopher Garside University of Toronto
  • William Ju University of Toronto
  • Hedieh Najafi University of Toronto
  • Laurie Harrison University of Toronto



biology course, virtual training environment., virtual lab simulation, undergraduate course design


The instructors of four biology-related courses at a Canadian university integrated Labster virtual labs in their courses as a pre-lab activity, lecture substitute, or to provide lab experience in courses with no on-site labs. The instructors used a backward design approach to align the labs with the learning objectives of their courses and to connect the labs with their course assessments. A study was conducted to examine students’ perceptions of the usefulness of the virtual labs in terms of content knowledge and lab skills. At the end of each course, the instructors administered an anonymous survey in their classes. In total, 370 students participated. Across all four courses, survey results showed that at least 77% of the students found that virtual lab simulations helped them understand course concepts. At least 74% of the students navigated the virtual labs with no issues and 58% of the students found the simulations to be of high quality.

Author Biographies

Maria Papaconstantinou, University of Toronto

Dr. Maria Papaconstantinou is an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in the Human Biology Program at the University of Toronto.  She teaches courses in a variety of disciplines, including genetics, global health, and translational medicine.  Her current research interests lie in the examination of the impact and effectiveness of various pedagogical approaches on undergraduate learning outcomes, including blended learning strategies, genetics animations, and the use of virtual and augmented reality.

Dawn Kilkenny, University of Toronto

Dr. Dawn Kilkenny is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto. She holds a Dean’s Emerging Innovation in Teaching Professorship and was the 2016 Sanford Fleming Foundation Wighton Fellow, recognizing excellence in development and teaching of undergraduate laboratory-based courses in Canadian programs.

Christopher Garside, University of Toronto

Dr. Chris Garside is Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at the University of Toronto and teaches courses in animal physiology and cell and molecular biology. His research interests include the exploration of, and investigation into, innovative and evidence-based approaches to improve teaching, learning, and engagement.

William Ju, University of Toronto

Dr. William (Bill) Ju M.Sc., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in the Human Biology Program at the University of Toronto. His pedagogical interests include the use of AI to inform teaching and incorporating EDI in courses.

Hedieh Najafi, University of Toronto

Dr. Hedieh Najafi is a researcher with Online Learning Strategies at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include scaffolding technology supported collaborative learning, pedagogical design for self-directed online learning, and learning in virtual environments including virtual labs.

Laurie Harrison, University of Toronto

Dr. Laurie Harrison is the Director, Online Learning Strategies at the University of Toronto and provides strategic advice regarding digital learning initiatives, faculty development, and program evaluation. Her Ph.D. at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education explored e-learning policy and strategy development in Ontario with a focus on response to rapid social change.


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