Benefits and Challenges of a Virtual Laboratory in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering: Students’ Experiences in Fermentation

Simoneta Caño de las Heras, Barbara Kensington-Miller, Brent Young, Vicente Gonzalez, Ulrich Krühne, Seyed Soheil Mansouri, Saeid Baroutian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Engineering education is facing major challenges as it seeks to provide necessary and robust practical experience for all its undergraduate students. The limitation of resources (capital and operational), the increasing number of engineering students and the need to provide safe, up-to-date laboratory experiences have become global issues. Although the use of virtual laboratories (VLs) can provide some relief, within the engineering curriculum further pedagogical research is still needed. In this article, we investigate student perceptions of their learning experience that occurred using a commercial VL (Labster) for fermentation to replace the usual physical laboratory. We use Kolb‘s experiential learning cycle for the theoretical framework to examine the different stages of active learning and Bloom’s taxonomy to illustrate the levels of learning that occurred. Using a mixed-methods methodology, multiple sources were used to analyze the students’ experiences. In general, the simulation experience conducted as a VL was well-received by undergraduate students and they appreciated the use of technology to shorten the required time for the experiment. However, there were limitations of the commercial model, related to the learning framework and learning objectives. Nevertheless, our findings suggest the VL is well-suited to be used as a supplement or as a preparatory tool but also has merit when the laboratory is unable to be accessed, for example, with the global pandemic COVID-19, which has had a devastating influence on educational institutions worldwide, closing many of them down and requiring students and staff to self-isolate.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)866–875
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Upper-Division Undergraduate
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Laboratory Instruction
  • Computer-Based Learning
  • Internet/Web-Based Learning
  • Biotechnology


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