Remote Laboratories in the Curriculum

B. Hanson, P. Culmer, J. Gallagher, K. Page, E. Read, A. Weightman, and M. Levesley (UK)



Remote laboratories are increasingly being developed to provide students with web-based access to real laboratory experiments. The demonstrable advantages (e.g. increased accessibility) are tempered by concerns that remote access will be substituted for “hands-on” practical work, and reduce interaction between students. We argue that these concerns can be avoided if remote labs are used appropriately, as with any other pedagogical method, making the best use of their many beneficial affordances. We review studies that have made direct comparisons between remote and hands-on labs, and analyse the two methods’ important similarities and differences by considering the students’ physical and psychological experiences. Then, the characteristic properties of remote-access labs are investigated from a pedagogical perspective, including results from focus groups of students’ opinions and experiences with hands-on and remote labs. We find that the only necessary difference between hands-on and remote-labs is the physical separation of student and apparatus. Other differences and similarities between the modalities are controllable factors, to greater or lesser extents. Remote labs have potential to offer some valuable educational advantages which have not been possible with traditional labs. To achieve the technique’s full potential, it is important that its abilities and limitations are widely understood.

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