This text outlines some of the features of the LabXchange experimental design simulations and provides some tips on how to interact with them to get the most personalized experience.
Experimental Design Simulations
Science is unique because of the importance of discovery through experimentation. Yet, many students see their first lab experiments as a collection of steps to be followed without an understanding of why. That experience deprives them of the chance to think critically and place the results of their experiment into a broader context.
The experimental design simulation developed by LabXchange allows you to construct a sequence of laboratory techniques that answers a specific research question. You can make mistakes and gain experience in a low-stake environment.
Navigating the Lab Notebook
The simulation is framed within a lab notebook that models the planning and analysis of the experiment. The lab notebook consists of seven different sections that model the sequence of events when conducting an experiment in an actual lab. You can move between these sections at any time during the experiment simply by clicking on the section title in the menu at the right. The lab notebook can be opened or closed by clicking on the hexagon at the top right of screen.
The Context section introduces the research question and gives an introduction to the science background knowledge. The Techniques section lists foundational lab methods that can be combined to design the experiment to answer your research question. In the Design section, you can select which experimental steps are necessary to answer your research question and create a protocol by sequencing lab techniques. After the design of your experiment, you encounter and solve problems that occur in a real lab in the Problem Solving section. The Results section allows for the interpretation of the data that your designed experiment produces. The Reflection section concludes the experimental design by assessing your understanding of the conducted experiment with a few targeted questions.
Choosing a level
Before beginning your experimental design, you are prompted to choose a level. The levels are designed to provide different levels of support depending on how familiar you are with each of the lab techniques and the process of experimental design. We recommend that those with little familiarity with the techniques choose level 1. Those with some familiarity or prior exposure to standard lab methods related to the research question and/or the process of experimental design may wish to select level 2. Those who are very comfortable with experimental design and/or the techniques related to the research question may wish to opt for level 3.
Designing the Experiment
The first part of the Design section requires you to draw up a plan for how to conduct your experiment, focusing on thematic steps rather than the actual experimental techniques. You choose a step on the right and drag it into the blue boxes on the left. If your choice was correct, you will get a check for that particular step. If you made a mistake, you can use the trash can icon to remove this particular step and try again. Helpful feedback accompanies each mistake to help you correct it.
After completing this “big picture” overview, you continue to the next part of the Design section where you combine lab techniques to answer your research question. The starting material is the initial “input”. Adding a particular technique creates a new “output” that will, in turn, be the input for the next technique. Inputs and outputs are always in hexagons, while techniques are dragged into rectangular boxes. Sequencing techniques one by one leads eventually to the complete design of your experimental approach to answer the initial research query.
Mistakes can always be corrected and are part of the scientific process and experimental design. Removing a wrongly chosen technique is done by clicking the trash can icon. However, there is a limit to the number of attempts that can be made before you'll need to restart the simulation.
Saving Your Progress
Progress through the simulation is preserved as learners navigate between sections in the lab notebook during the experiment. But, be aware that if the browser window is closed, progress will be lost.