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Durham University

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Student news

Our VR Labs

(31 March 2021)

Our Archaeology team has worked with Danish company Labster, to make a series of interactive, virtual labs available for students to hone their hands on skills.

In a field where practical experience and being able to identify and analyse three-dimensional objects is crucial, our ‘Advanced Skills in Archaeology: Introduction to DNA analysis’ module uses a hands-on approach to ensure our aspiring archaeologists are able to analyse DNA in the lab.

The module introduces students to DNA analysis through a series of live sessions, first-person lab videos and virtual reality lab sessions reliant on participants decisions to determine the outcome. 

Mass graves

Students studying a prehistoric mass grave, used DNA analysis to determine the sex of those interred and their kinship to others, finishing with a report determining if that impacted their positioning in the grave.

With DNA analysis usually done on-site, the virtual reality lab has proven to be a game-changer when it comes to replicating actual laboratory situations.

Accessible through any laptop, the VR lab enables students to make their own decisions that replicate a lab environment. The attention to detail ensures that all aspects are covered from putting on lab coats and PPE, to digitally setting up their research station and undertaking analysis with the results dependent on student decisions.

Levelling up

To ensure the situation is a realistic as possible, the simulations are halted at random points, and students are asked theoretical questions, only progressing when they get the correct answer.

The VR sessions are combined with live sessions covering data analysis as well as laboratory videos that have been made in partnership with Archaeosoup – a digital media production company founded by alumni Marc Barkman-Astles.

This combined teaching approach has ensured that our students have the chance to develop crucial analysis skills in this popular module, ready for whatever the archaeological world throws at them.

The positive response and success of this programme has prompted our Archaeology team to consider how best to continue such VR sessions and look at it as a way to further develop our courses.

Find out more

The Department of Archaeology is a leading centre for the study of archaeology and one of the top departments in the world.