ViSkiLab, an educational innovation: a virtual dive into the biomedical lab

by Tula Verhalle, KU Leuven, Belgium.

Since the academic year 2021-2022, first-year bachelor students of Biomedical Sciences (Faculty of Medicine, KU Leuven) have been using virtual reality glasses to get ready for their first lab practice sessions.

The large group of 18/19-year old starters (ca. 400 students each year) is very heterogeneous because of their different scientific backgrounds. Most of these students have no or limited knowledge of how an L1 biomedical laboratory (lab) looks like and are often overwhelmed by the laboratory environment when they first enter the lab.  Therefore, the learning objectives of the ViSkiLab were to (1) make students familiar with Good laboratory Practices (GLPs) rules, including lab safety; (2) teach students correct waste management; (3) get students acquainted with how to perform experiments; (4) teach students how to use different biomedical laboratory techniques and equipment and (5) to bring the large heterogeneous group of students up to an equal start level before the practicals.

ViSkiLab app is an immersive 360° video experience using Virtual Reality (VR) glasses. Importantly, the interactive 360° video is recorded in the authentic lab where students subsequently perform their ‘real life’ practicals. In a separate classroom, each student received an individual VR headset to go through the VR application. First, they have to watch a video on ‘How to work with a VR headset’ as it is often a new medium for students. Second, each student completes the VR app individually. In this way students can go through the app, which consists of 4 different parts, at their own pace. Each student completes the interactive ViSkiLab app before starting the actual real life practicals in the authentic L1 biomedical lab.

The students are fully immersed in the VR lab due to the 360° video, in which the executed experiments are embedded in an exciting storyline. Together with its lab partner Luna, the VR-student performs different experiments in order to solve the ‘Poisoned milk mystery’. In the lab they find a milk bottle which is poisoned with a biotoxin and the student has to investigate who is trying to poison whom. Various experiments (i.e. identification of various biomolecules in milk) are performed to solve the milk mystery and students learn to note the obtained results in the experimental card. Furthermore, the VR-student interacts with their virtual classmates by answering multiple choice questions and searching for hotspots, both provided with personal feedback, and filling in a lab book (e.g. an experimental card). In addition, there are 2D movies, information panels and 2D pictures integrated in the 360° video to zoom in on certain aspects of the scientific content. This variety makes it interesting and keeps our students focused throughout the entire ViSkiLab app.

In 2021 an evaluation was done to assess both the scientific quality and added value of ViSkiLab and second, to examine how ViSkiLab influenced the motivation of the students. The students were divided into two groups: one with only the manual as preparation and one that took ViSkiLab in addition. We saw that the students who followed ViSkiLab answered more often correct to certain questions. We were pleasantly surprised to see such a difference in terms of content. Furthermore, students were very positive and enthousiastic: they found that it was a good preparation for the actual lab practica.

The development of ViSkiLab is a great example of a multidisciplinary collaboration. Our team consisted of Biomedical experts, educations experts, intructional designers, VR experts, developers, a cinematographer, director, actors and students. Each member contributed their knowledge and skills to make a great evidence-based education experience.

In conclusion, ViSkiLab stands out from other educational media by its unique combination of high-level scientific content and the engaging backstory. The Cluedo-like storyline makes students excited to perform experiments in order to know exactly what happened in the lab. ViSkiLab creates a safe environment for students to get acquainted to GLPs rules and the basics of performing biomedical experiments and to learn from their mistakes. With ViSkiLab, the first-year students are fully and optimally prepared to start their ‘real-life’ practicals. Although it is a fantastic tool to accelerate the learning process, it will never replace the real practical sessions.

This is also why we are very proud to have won the ‘Special Prize of the MEDEA Jury’ of the MEDEA awards at the Media & Learning Conference 2022 in Leuven.

Editor’s note: Tula Verhalle will be presenting at the upcoming Media & Learning online event titled “Virtual tours of advanced learning spaces” that will take place on 15 February. Learn more about the event here.


Tula Verhalle, KU Leuven, Belgium


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