7 Simulations & Labs

Chapter Intro

Simulations and labs can present a special challenge in online spaces. There are many technologies that can aid in the delivery of this type of content, however, ranging from 360-degree cameras, to software that allows students to “choose their own pathway,” to hands-on, at-home lab kits. Below are a few considerations to keep in mind when designing simulations and labs for online spaces, along with resources for different types of virtual lab and simulation activities.

  • Identify which of your lab activities can be delivered online. For example, orientation/pre-lectures and demonstrations of techniques can be recorded in Panopto and delivered in Canvas. Students can be asked to familiarize themselves with procedures. Peer learning can be done asynchronously with Canvas discussion forums or using GoReact, or synchronously via Zoom or GoReact.
  • Provide students with raw data to analyze. If your course involves data collection and analysis, consider walking students through/demonstrating the data collection yourself. You can then provide students with data to analyze; ask them to collect their own data; or have them use external data available online. Middlebury resources for data and for questions about data include:
  • Identify needs for access to software. Identify which software your students might currently only have access to on campus-based computers (as opposed to their personal computers), and provide this info to ITS by filling out this short form. ITS can work with you on software licensing or possible alternatives.
  • Capture and edit custom media for simulations.
  • Investigate virtual lab and simulation options. You may be able to accomplish some lab activities via online simulation or using lab kits designed for at-home use. You can create simulations using a variety of Middlebury tools and platforms, including Canvas, Panopto, PowerPoint, H5P, and Microsoft Forms. See the resource list in this chapter for suggestions on external sources for virtual lab and simulation options.
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Choose Your Own Pathway Simulation

A simulation activity that guides students through a real-world scenario in which they are the decision maker and are presented with different outcomes based on the decisions they choose. Simulation can provide context-rich experiential learning in a controlled environment. The scenario can be designed using text-only, video, audio-only, imagery (360-degree imagery can help immerse students in the setting), interactive maps, or a combination of multiple media.


  • Learning goal(s)
  • A real-world scenario with branched decision-points that lead to different outcomes
  • Video, audio, images, and/or other media that help convey how the situation would appear in real life
  • Prompts/expectations for students
  • An online platform to deliver the simulation
  • Assessment and/or feedback strategy

Step by Step Instructions

    1. Identify your learning goals. Some examples:
      • Students will use the simulation to review course topics with the goal of understanding consequences to different decision paths within the context of a real-world scenario.
      • Students will engage in skill-building and decision-making in a real-world context.
    1. Design a real-world scenario. Let students know whether there is a time limit or time considerations to keep in mind (for example, it’s a medical situation and there is limited time to save someone’s life).
    1. Determine decision-making points throughout the scenario that will lead students to different outcomes based on the decision they choose. These decision-points should be (1) realistic decisions they might encounter in real life, and (2) able to be addressed in an automated way, so that when students input a response, the immediate outcome of their decision is revealed to them and presents them with feedback and/or outcomes. Answers or responses to the decision-points you provide will need to be standardized. For example, a multiple choice response, a number, exact text, matching, an image hotspot to click, a formula, GPS coordinates, ordering items in a list, etc.
    1. Determine if you want or need to set a time limit for the simulation activity.
    1. Identify an online platform or tool. There are many options for creating virtual simulations, which often involve multiple tools for initial setup. Several platforms and tools to consider that are available for free to Middlebury faculty, students, and staff are:
      • Canvas
      • Microsoft Forms
      • Panopto
      • PowerPoint
      • H5P
    1. Build the virtual simulation using your tool(s) and platform of choice.
    1. Give feedback/assess. Make sure to let students know ahead of time details of how the platform, tools, and simulation work, as well as whether and how the simulation will be assessed. We recommend using simulations as low- or no-stakes options for reviewing or practicing course content. Simulations can provide an immersive real-world experience and immediate automated feedback.

See the EM Sim Cases and Simtech websites for collections of donated medical text scenarios available for free use or to modify. Both sites also include scenario templates and other simulation resources.

The Simtech site includes medical media resources that are free to use along with templates, debriefing tools, and media release forms. Below is one example of a scenario shared on Simtech.

Trauma Simulation Scenario Synopsis (view full scenario details)

Case Title:  Propeller head – Hit by motorboat

Case Summary: A 27 year old male is swimming to Wolf Island and is struck by a boat

Target Learners: EM group

The patient is otherwise healthy but he has suffered a LARGE laceration to the back of his head and right leg. He has also swallowed water and will be hypoxic.

Learning Objectives


  • Reinforce/introduce a systematic (ABC) approach to the trauma patient.
  • Review the adjuncts to the trauma survey and their timing.


  • Rapid primary survey with re-evaluation of ABCs at regular intervals. Focused secondary survey and appropriate use of adjuncts.


  • Effective trauma team leadership in a critically injured patient.

Additional Resources

The EM Sim Cases and Simtech websites share collections of medical text scenarios available for free use or to modify. Both sites also include scenario templates, media assets, and other simulation resources. While these materials are geared at medical scenarios, other disciplines may find them helpful in planning out their virtual scenarios as well.

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Virtual Lab and Simulation Resources


Virtual Labs and Simulations Open Educational Resources

A collection of labs and simulations that faculty can use in the remote learning context. This list is curated by the Arthur Lakes Library at the Colorado School of Mines.

Journal of Visualized Experiments

A collection of science lab demo videos for various levels and disciplines including biology, neuro, and psych.

MERLOT Simulation Collection (California State University)

The MERLOT collection of Open Educational Resources includes thousands of free simulations on a broad range of topics. The database is searchable by keyword, and each item in the collection provides details including material type, authorship, brief description, peer review rating, and user rating.


Curated list of online lab lessons and resources

ChemCollective (joint project from NSF, Carnegie Mellon, and NSDL)

Free, online chem lab simulations for topics including Stoichiometry, Thermochemistry, Equilibrium, Acid-Base Chemistry, Solubility, Oxidation/Reduction and Electrochemistry, Analytical Chemistry/Lab Techniques

MIT Open Courseware Digital Lab Techniques Manual Videos

Free videos from MIT’s Digital Lab Techniques Manual Description for the web site: “The “Digital Lab Techniques Manual” is a series of videos designed to help you prepare for your chemistry laboratory class. Each video provides a detailed demonstration of a common laboratory technique, as well as helpful tips and information. These videos are meant to supplement, and not replace, your lab manual and assigned reading. In fact, you will most benefit from watching the videos if you have already read the appropriate background information. To be a great experimentalist, you must understand both theory and technique!”

PhET Interactive Simulations (University of Colorado – Boulder)

Free online simulations and teaching activities for Physics, Chemistry, Math, Earth Science, and Biology (site has simulations for all grade levels; link takes you to simulations designed for university students)


Brings together high-quality content from a variety of sources in the form of online learning assets, including videos, assessments, and simulations. Uses a re-engineered Open edX platform giving users the flexibility to search, select, and insert these assets into their own customized learning pathways.


Fee-based service that will work with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your course

Hands-On Labs

Fee-based service that will work with faculty to create custom online and hands-on lab kits for your course

Crowd-sourced Lab/Simulation Resources

Extensive, collectively sourced spreadsheet of resources, organized by discipline



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