Benefits and Challenges Associated with Using Virtual Labs and Solutions to Overcome Them
This study investigated the benefits and challenges associated with the use of virtual labs to teach students, as well as solutions to overcome the challenges. This study was because of the need to develop and implement virtual labs in Zambian institutions of learning. There are plans in Zambia to use virtual labs to supplement the existing laboratory infrastructure and their application would be in a blended type of setting.
The study comprised the use of interviews of ten career and technical education (CTE) teachers and five CTE administrators who were from various local school systems and one community college in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The researcher conducted the interviews, analyzed the data, and determined conclusions.
The CTE administrators and teachers all agreed that the benefits of virtual labs included flexibility, hands-on learning, and convenience. With regard to challenges, CTE administrators indicated the following: inadequate teacher preparation for virtual teaching; constant technological changes, which meant more training for them; software problems; and teachers' resistance to the changes in their curricula. Teachers, on the other hand, had the following challenges: inadequate communication between them and the technology centers in the schools, frequent failure of laboratory equipment and software, incompetent students allowed to study virtually, and inadequate training to teach in a virtual environment.
CTE administrators identified three solutions to the challenges which they had faced. In order to ensure that their virtual programs were running smoothly, they felt that adequate funding needed to be obtained and kept in the budget for training new and older teachers in the use of new teaching software. They identified various venues for training teachers, including attendance at conferences, technological expositions, and bringing in software vendors to train the teachers on site. The administrators also thought that providing adequate and prompt technical support when teachers had technical problems could help overcome the identified challenges. On the other hand, CTE teachers thought that collaborating with other teachers who were facing similar problems would be an excellent way to overcome challenges. They also indicated that initial training and continual training to update their skills would help them overcome problems.