Bridging gaps in science education: Samuel Agyeman ’17 and Constant Likudie ’18 explore Virtual Reality labs

In high school, Contsant Likudie ‘18 studied Science, taking a combination of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. However, his first experience in a science laboratory didn’t come until late in his second year. And even on those rare occasions that he and his classmates got to use the labs, the sessions covered were designed only for tests and examination. “I had very little exposure to the practical side of science,” he said. “Most of the things we did in the lab were tailored towards examination, so we hardly got the chance to explore things we found interesting.”

Constant’s experience is sadly not unique. Several schools in Ghana have poorly resourced laboratories, leaving students to rely largely on their textbooks and lecturers to try to understand the practicality of science. Constant believes that the lack of a practical way of teaching science in our high schools is one of the reasons science is perceived as a course reserved for only a special group of students.

“Before I went to senior high school, the perception was that science was only for the top students,” he explained. “Essentially if science was taught more effectively, students would realize it really does not need an extra set of abilities.”

In an attempt to help fill this gap and also change perceptions students have of science, Constant started Project Eureka, a low-cost initiative that gives junior high school students the opportunity to carry out scientific experiments in ‘mobile science labs’. Twice a week, Constant carries boxes of science apparatus and experiments to the Fidelity Basic Junior High School in Berekuso, where the students get to perform actual scientific experiments. “We chose to start from the basic level, from a level where we can beef up people’s interest to make science more attractive,” he says. “Eureka is about having actual science labs and changing the way science is taught.”

While this initiative has taken off steadily, it still has its limits: some experiments that may be potentially hazardous or need more sophisticated equipment remain out of reach. Fortunately, Constant didn’t have to look too far for an intervention; Samuel Agyeman ’17, and his capstone project on creating virtual science labs seem to have a solution.

When Constant learned about Samuel’s project, he immediately recognized the potential to expand Project Eureka, simulating numerous experiments in an engaging and immersive way via virtual reality. “For some of the things that we are unable to experiment on, we need a creative way to let the students know what we teaching them,” he said. “Utilizing VR, It’s something they can see and relate to science in an effective way. The tool will also help them learn at their own pace because if you have this device at home, as you can have a lab wherever you are.”

For Samuel, his final year project was essentially an avenue to combine his love for science and his passion for creating 3-d computer images. In high school, he had also experienced some of the drawbacks of science in Ghana and through his capstone project he sought to create a tool that would be impactful. Working together with Constant, the two are looking to expand the possibilities of Project Eureka.

“When I took Science in high school, we struggled with grasping some of the concepts because they seemed abstract,” said Samuel. “We didn’t do or understand much besides what was in the textbooks for lab sessions. Hopefully, the virtual lab will help people understand better, and also peak their interest in Science.”

 Currently, Samuel is working with Project Eureka and NubianVR, to create content for the virtual lab. “With Samuel’s project, we’ve been able to show that it is possible to have a virtual science lab that can be used as a tool for education, but as to what extent it can be an effective tool, we are not yet sure,” said Kabiru Seidu ’14, co-founder of NubianVR. “However, we do have some insight as to what an effective educational tool is like; adaptive learning. Essentially, it’s a technologhy that presents students with material that is relevant to them based on their level of education and helps the student build skills to fill the gaps that they have. Our goal now is to building that level of integration into the VR labs.”