We often cover cutting-edge advances in medical technology, but less frequently see significant developments in medical and science education technology. A Denmark-based ed tech start-up called Labster aims to disrupt the way we teach students about lab work and, in the process, “empower the next generation of scientists to save the world.” We had a chance to speak with the founder and CEO, Mads Bonde, about how Labster got started and his goals for the virtual platform.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: When and how did the idea for Labster originate?
Mads Bonde: I got the idea and worked on a prototype when studying biotech engineering at the Technical University of Denmark and Harvard Medical School. The idea stemmed from my own experience with lab teaching where I realized that current solutions were ineffective and severely limited by time and resources. When I researched the area, I found that it was well documented that traditional teaching methods were highly ineffective, and this inspired me to apply for grant funding and accelerate the project.
Medgadget: Who is your target audience, and what makes you believe that people will want to play a science video game?
Bonde: We are targeting university and high school students, and have already sold Labster to many educational institutions – for example, it is endorsed by Stanford, Berkeley and other high-profile institutions. We have made a large study of the efficacy of Labster in terms of learning efficacy and motivation in collaboration with biotech and educational measurement researchers, which have shown amazing results. We are submitting the article to Science Magazine this month, so I can’t disclose to much information yet.
We are very aware only to use game elements when they truly support both learning efficacy and motivation since too many educational games have been developed where the students learn way too little. We ensure this by continuing measurement and benchmarking to traditional teaching in terms of motivation and learning outcomes, and we only proceed when a Labster case performs better on both aspects.
Medgadget: How do you decide which scenarios to produce?
Bonde: We are closely collaborating with educators to produce scenarios that are highly relevant for the students, as well as important and interesting examples of the experiments and concepts being taught.
Medgadget: Which scenario is your favorite?
Bonde: Our next-generation sequencing case is my favorite, where students can sequence DNA from a bone of an ancient Greenland man, and deduce his features based on the DNA profile. The case highlights the intimate relationship between genome and features, which is tremendously important for emerging fields such as personalized medicine. Furthermore, we will soon upgrade the case with a medical genetics case involving breast cancer as well, which will be really interesting.
Medgadget: What is the Labster platform built on?
Bonde: Labster is build on the Unity3D platform (unity3d.com), which is a platform for game development that is highly flexible, and allow distribution to web and native iPad and Android apps (unlike the flash platform that most of our competitors use). We have developed an advanced architecture to connect mathematical simulations, machines and contents of test tubes to allow real simulations of all relevant processes.
Medgadget: Are there any other comparable products?
Bonde: Our competitors such as Late Nite Labs and McGrawHill LearnSmart Labs have simply virtualized the traditional science teaching method that have been documented to be very ineffective in numerous scientific studies. In collaboration with learning researchers and professors we have innovated the entire learning flow by re-inventing science education covering everything from engaging and fun real-world scenarios, to interactive 3D animations explaining what happens even on a nano-level, to applying modern teaching methods that optimizes learning effectiveness and retention. Most comparable products are focusing on Flash, which do not work on iPads and Android tablets. We leverage a state-of-the-art 3D gaming engine called Unity3D, which is cross platform and compiles natively to iPads, Androids, Mac, PC, all web browsers and even iPods.
Medgadget: Will Labster be available in any other languages?
Bonde: We plan to translate Labster to other languages, but as most international universities are comfortable with English, we will wait until we are sure of a demand of translations.
Medgadget: Do you have plans for any strategic partnerships? For example, with MOOCs or even suppliers of lab equipment (i.e. I could envision Illumina or Qiagen wanting their lab equipment and reagents listed). Other ideas include Google and Intel, both of which have their own large science fairs.
Bonde: We definitely have plans for for strategic partnerships. We are already in dialogue with some manufacturers of lab equipment e.g. Agilent and IDT, and will soon contact more who produce the equipment we have in the lab. The products will be widely exposed to and used for training of both students and professors globally, which we believe can have a significant impact for future sales. We are in dialogue with Berkeley about developing Labs for the MOOC edX (www.edx.org).
Medgadget: Can you describe your background in science, technology, and innovation?
Bonde: I am educated as a Master of Science within Biotechnology engineering at The Technical University of Denmark and Harvard University. I founded Labster three years ago, and it has been exciting to see an innovation I conceived mature into a quite successful company, and especially to be able to create a disruptive technology with the potential of helping thousands of students globally. I am performing research within development of cell factories for production of novel medicine, and I believe that the close link between performing research and creating a cutting-edge education tool is very valuable.
Here’s the company’s sleek promo video:
Link: Labster home page…