April L. Ulery1, Kenneth Carroll2, Barbara Chamberlin3 and Adam Dettmer2, (1)Plant and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM (2)Plant & Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM (3)Media Productions, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Batch sorption experiments are fundamental to understanding and predicting the behavior of compounds in the environment and are conducted routinely by many scientists. However, because they are tedious and take several days to complete, they are often not taught in large classes which have time constraints and limited funding. Interactive computer simulations of science experiments provide a low-risk opportunity to learn about various activities introduced through lecture, and to prepare for lab work. A new online virtual lab gives students an opportunity to learn about sorption concepts, use lab equipment in a virtual setting, and understand proper lab techniques. Additionally, computer animations can help students see what is happening at the molecular scale in a way that is impossible in the lab. The virtual lab addresses the adsorption of phosphate to soil, but the methodology is similar to other topics, such as cation exchange capacity. These labs are not designed to replace traditional lab instruction, but to supplement instruction on challenging or particularly time-consuming and repetitive concepts. Students can use these computer simulations to prepare for and continue their lab experience while at home. More importantly, students can reflect, discuss, review, and even fail at their lab experience as part of the process, in seeing why natural processes and scientific approaches work the way they do. This team has completed a series of online digital labs available at virtuallabs.nmsu.edu and scienceofsoil.com (all are freely available) and these virtual labs are being integrated into coursework to evaluate changes in student learning.