During the pandemic, visiting a lab via the internet could be a fascinating idea, which becomes more accessible thanks to advanced technologies. The tours offer the chance for students, who want to explore the actual lab’s environment, and vice versa, these labs could reach their potential candidates. Virtual lab tours are not new, but they have never been as prevalent as in-person lab tours. However, the pandemic has generated strong incentives for formerly in-person lab tours to go online. Researchers and educators with experience conducting such tours give their tips for people new to the medium—and reasons scientists may want to continue offering virtual tours even when the COVID-19 threat is past.
Catherine McCusker, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has been conducting virtual lab tours targeting K–12 students as a form of public outreach since 2013 using her laptop with a built-in camera. Student instructors usually email her to request for a tour through her lab website, and once McCusker finds a suitable time, she will run a virtual event. “I think virtual lab tours can be done well even without professional equipment once you have created a clear program of what the tour will be like,” she says. “I start by first bringing participants for a tour of my laboratory facility, followed by a short research presentation, and ending with a question and answer session.” She conducts her tours live so that she can interact with the students, and she says the response of the participants has been amazing, as they are incredibly interactive and curious about science and what scientists do in the lab.
Researchers who prefer high-quality video production can seek professional help for their virtual lab tours. Creating a highly professional virtual lab tour can take significant effort. A good script is crucial; the storylines highlight the benefits of the spaces being toured and paint a picture of the lab experience there. Once they have a draft production, feedback from multiple stakeholder groups or student and researcher is a must.
Researchers with experience filming virtual tours say they offer great value, and not just in social distancing practice. The tours, which include information about the different clinical environment and their impact on patients, as well as lab equipment and procedures, can support both ordinary audience and formal learning. For normal people, it is accessible and convenient. By using a 360° camera and video editing software, they could develop interactive tours to give formal students a flavor of the environment in clinical and laboratory settings.