Virtual hands-on lab: Crossing contextual boundaries virtually

This story is written by Shehla Khan and Naghma Rizvi (Both are Assistant Professors and Basic Science Faculty, Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery


 Biochemistry is a 3 credit lab-based foundational course offered to Bachelors of Science (BSN) undergraduates Year 1 students. The focus of the course is to develop an understanding of the major organic substances, their structure, analysis, and biochemical functions. It also includes the chemistry of bioenergetics, metabolism, biosynthesis, and molecular biology. The students not only study these concepts in class; for a better understanding of the physiological functions in the human body, they perform different experiments to study the chemical and physical properties of the biomolecules. In this program, most students come from the remotest areas of northern Pakistan, Sindh, and Punjab. 

Due to the Pandemic, reaching out to students virtually posed challenges for those who got marginalized because of insufficient bandwidth. Therefore, a well-thought-through, innovative and creative solution was needed to deliver basic science courses that had a lab component attached. Keeping in view the diversity of backgrounds of the students in the program, the sudden transition from face-to-face (f2f) teaching to an exclusively online learning setup resulted in the innovation of teaching and learning in many ways. Our biggest challenge was to innovate a hands-on learning experience in the laboratory setting with a virtual hands-on learning experience without compromising on any of the course learning outcomes. This led to a revamp of the entire format of the laboratory session as we had to create a virtual lab with two webcams, high bandwidth, and cable network replaced by WIFI and an upgraded sound system to avoid audio distraction. 


To ensure students’ engagement and to enhance the visibility of apparatus during the virtual lab, a small podium containing apparatus and equipment was used. The second webcam, with a mobile tripod stand, focused on the experiment performed by faculty and was rotated to give a virtual tour of the science lab to students. 


                    Fig 1: Faculty Conducting experiment as students (Online) observe                                       Fig 2: Students (Online) conducting experiments at their homes as the Faculty observes    

Fig 3: Faculty Preparing an Experiment for the Virtual Lab session

In the initial session, the faculty performed the experiments, and students observed; later, students were asked to bring items from their kitchen (yogurt, shampoo, etc.) and surroundings (Leaves, flowers, etc.) and simultaneously perform the experiment at their end with their video cameras on. This fully engaged the students throughout. Every Lab session was followed by an interactive discussion on the concepts involved in the experiments. Simultaneously, worksheets were sent to them as formative assessments through Zoom and WhatsApp. Students were given time to fill out the worksheet followed by a large group discussion. To add some flavor in the form of humor during the sessions, rap songs and videos on the science concepts were also played. Several virtual lab sessions were successfully conducted and are now being followed by other courses as well in our department and beyond


Few students connected online missed part of the lab sessions due to fluctuations in the internet connectivity. However, they benefitted from the zoom recordings shared in the virtual learning environment (VLE) after each session.

 Students’ feedback from zoom chat

The following are some of the feedback that we received from students about the virtual lab sessions:

  • Although we are not present in the lab physically, we feel that we are in the lab and doing experiments.  
  • A new experience but it was very informative and instructive. 
  • The virtual lab provided new information and knowledge about lab hazards, and precautions. The way we have been taught by ma'am in this class was really fascinating. 
  • Difficult to perform lab on zoom, but it was amazing.
  •  Superb and interesting Lab 
  • Outstanding


One of the important learning outcomes of the course regarding learning chemical and physical properties of the biomolecules through experimentation was met by innovating and replacing the face-to-face lab's experiments with online teaching and learning modality. The labs were conducted by virtually crossing contextual boundaries. The results of the formative assessment done after the lab endorsed students’ focused learning, thus ensuring that the learning outcome for the session was met. Enthusiastic engagement of the students in the post-lab discussion and students’ feedback was another evidence of students learning.

Initially, we thought we could not carry out the science lab synchronously but after lots of trials and playing with technology, it was possible to do so.​