Online practicals can be a great way for students to get hands-on with real-life scenarios. Rather than simply 'following a recipe' students can be challenged to engage fully with the context and purpose of the exercise.
Dr Kenny Moore of the Dunn School of Pathology and his colleagues have evolved the software they use to teach virological techniques, keeping students stimulated through virtual games, quizzes, feedback, video and realistic data. The Viral Outbreak iCase requires students to decide which experiments to perform in order to uncover a key piece of information about an imaginary outbreak of influenza in two fictitious primary schools.
Students have given the redesigned online practical a resounding thumbs-up: in a survey, 94% found it interesting and over two-thirds said that they would welcome more of the same in the future. Many students preferred it to the practicals they had been used to, despite finding it more difficult and demanding.