What are Virtual and Remote Laboratories?

Virtual and remote laboratories reflect a movement among education institutions to make the equipment and elements of a physical science laboratory more easily available to learners from any location, via the web. Virtual laboratories are web applications that emulate the operation of real laboratories and enable students to practice in a “safe” environment before using real, physical components. Students can typically access virtual labs 24/7, from wherever they are, and run the same experiments over and over again. Some emerging virtual lab platforms also incorporate reporting templates that populate with the results of the experiments so that students and teachers can easily review the outcomes. Remote laboratories, on the other hand, provide a virtual interface to a real, physical laboratory. Institutions that do not have access to high-caliber lab equipment can run experiments and perform lab work online, accessing the tools from a central location. Users are able to manipulate the equipment and watch the activities unfold via a webcam on a computer or mobile device. This provides students with a realistic view of system behavior and allows them access to professional laboratory tools from anywhere, whenever they need. Additionally, remote labs alleviate some financial burden for institutions as they can forgo purchasing specific equipment and use the remote tools that are at their disposal.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • A replication of facilities in many institutions are going to lead to a rationalisations of lab space shared amongst institutions - david.cummings david.cummings Feb 19, 2014
  • Laboratories, particularly wet labs are one of the most expensive teaching and learning infrastructure costs at universities. Although VDI can assist with re-imaging labs for multi-purpose use, virtual and remote laboratories provide valuable opportunities for learning- c.macken c.macken Feb 23, 2014c.macken
  • An area that has huge potential but less uptake in mainline courses/programs than might have been expected. I suspect many academics have their favourite experiment and would prefer to stick with that rather than incorporate someone else's experiment in their course. I also assume the logistics of maintaining the virtual or remote experimental setup is discouraging some universities from being responsible for the labs. Really needs universities to commit to establishing some remote labs for their own students and then opening them up to others? - geoffrey.crisp geoffrey.crisp Feb 25, 2014geoffrey.crisp

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Perhaps some indication that a viable financial model needs to be established for maintaining virtual or remote labs? - geoffrey.crisp geoffrey.crisp Feb 25, 2014geoffrey.crisp
  • add your response here

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • One issue for science subjects online has been lab access - a greater number of, particularly virtual labs will be the ability for practical experience in safe zones for students. - david.cummings david.cummings Feb 19, 2014
  • It may be the case that virtual and remote laboratories will not fully replace laboratory work, but the potential exists to use technology to provide laboratory based skills. Virtual laboratories also provide the benefit, of course, of allowing experiments for things we could, or would not, be able to practically achieve in the "real" world - c.macken c.macken Feb 23, 2014c.macken
  • I wonder if another approach to virtual or remote labs is to have students in one laboratory set up experiments in which students at a remote location could participate? This would only be possible with some experimental setups but might assist with the more widespread use of this type of activity as the offering university would be setting up the experiments for its own students and thus reducing the burden of setting up the remote labs? - geoffrey.crisp geoffrey.crisp Feb 25, 2014geoffrey.crisp

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • A brilliant example of a large national Australian virtual laboratory project is led by Dr David Hoxley at La Trobe University (funded by the Australian Government) - FarLabs Freely Accessible Remote Laboratories - https://www.farlabs.edu.au
    FARLabs allows students to remotely access and control class sets of laboratory equipment (e.g. radioactive sources) through a web browser. The equipment is housed at La Trobe (Physics and LIMS) and James Cook Universities. FARLabs targets secondary schools, but the project partners have found aspects very applicable to University students.
    FARLabs grew in part from the IRU Maths and Physics course sharing initiative (led by Peter Ridd at JCU), which identified a need for a clever, cost-effective way to share the laboratory component of senior physics subjects. JCU now use the LTU/FARLabs radioactivity apparatus in their first year program. LTU are integrating the JCU/FARLabs cyclone testing station/wind tunnel into Physics for life sciences at first year and at senior level.
    In addition to FARLabs, this year the LTU nanotechnology course will trial itunesU as a way to share resources from its Scanning Probe Microscopy (PHY5SPA) and Synchrotron Science (PHY5SYN) subjects with IRU member Flinders University, which also has a strong nanotechnology program. This may be a solution to the problem of cross-institutional enrolments and LMS access identified by the IRU course-sharing working group .

    - c.macken c.macken Feb 23, 2014c.macken

  • Another great example of a lab / immersive presence is the La Trobe Vislab - http://www.latrobe.edu.au/eresearch/services/visualization
    VisLab2 is a high-tech laboratory equipped with powerful visualisation technology, in which life-sciences researchers can access, display and manipulate large amounts of data and analyse them using a variety of tools. Catering specifically for researchers in 3D molecular biology, genomics and remote clinical training, VisLab2 has been created by La Trobe University's eResearch Office and VeRSI (The Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative) and builds on the success of VisLab1.
    VisLab2 contains the latest in visualisation technology, including:
• twenty-four 46” ultrathin-bezel full-HD screens linked together to form a huge curved display wall
• a Microsoft PixelSense touch table
• a 103” full-HD 3D monitor
• high-performance workstations for displaying and interacting with ultra-high resolution visualisation data
    The technology inside VisLab2 is managed by an enterprise-compliant control system, accessed via an Apple iPad. The system is so easy to use that an expert is not required to ‘drive’ the room, and researchers can control the equipment themselves, using voice recognition and gestural commands. - c.macken c.macken Feb 23, 2014c.macken
  • MARVL (Marine Virtual Laboratory) http://www.marvl.org.au/ Virtual oceonographic research environment run by the University of Tasmania - j.zagami j.zagami Feb 26, 2014
  • Genomics Virtual Laboratory https://genome.edu.au/wiki/GVL for bioinfomatics research - j.zagami j.zagami Feb 26, 2014

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