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?

  • There are MANY school systems where secondary schools do not offer adequate (or any) lab science experiences to their students. In India, the number is as high as 50% of secondary schools, and the problem exists throughout the world. While remote labs and virtual labs do not replace high-quality hands-on experiences, they can supplement or "fill the gap" for students who would otherwise be entirely marginlized - jim.vanides jim.vanides Aug 31, 2013Completely agree - marina.vicario marina.vicario Sep 3, 2013
  • It improves the learning process, since let use labs that sometimes are very expensive and are far away from home. - sros sros Sep 2, 2013
  • Remote laboratories offer the opportunity for students to engage with real scientific equipment and to work with real scientists. - amichaelberman amichaelberman Sep 2, 2013
  • This gives opportunities to those who don't have labs, and offering expert knowledge that might not be available - Holly.Lu Holly.Lu Sep 3, 2013 Agree & also enable experimentation that can't be done in real world even if there are resources due to, for example, safety concerns. - Zeinab.El.Maadawi Zeinab.El.Maadawi Sep 3, 2013

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

  • ASSESSMENT: While "virtual labs" (simulations) have existed for some time (e.g. PhET from U. Colorado), the types of virtual experiences are becoming more sophisticated - not just in appearance, but by embedding assessment into the tool (e.g. oLabs from Amrita University in India). - jim.vanides jim.vanides Aug 31, 2013 - Holly.Lu Holly.Lu Sep 3, 2013 - Zeinab.El.Maadawi Zeinab.El.Maadawi Sep 3, 2013
  • Fostering a federation of Labs - sros sros Sep 2, 2013

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on STEM+ education?

  • Using embedded assessment in virtual labs creates the potential for implementing a new form of science "testing" at scale, complementing "multiple choice" with actual cost-effective demonstrations of process skills. - jim.vanides jim.vanides Aug 31, 2013
  • Improving your basketball skill: Electronic Basketball Measures Basketball Skill - michael.lambert michael.lambert Sep 1, 2013
  • Improving learning experience - sros sros Sep 2, 2013

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

Please share information about related projects via our NMC Horizon Report project submission form.