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?

  • For online learners in the health sciences, virtual and remote laboratories enable students living in remote areas to gain clinical exposure and practice hours in a virtual setting. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016
  • But is it really clinical exposure? Have they actually been exposed to anything but a representation of something done somewhere else by someone else? I would much rather my students (and clinicians!) experienced things first hand. I suspect this will come up again when we discuss Virtual Reality... - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 Hopefully the (any) course would include compulsory) first hand activities, with online education being a useful supplement - helga helga Sep 19, 2016

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

  • Is virtual anything ever better than the actual thing? Well I guess a video game like Call of Duty might be one example. Not sure we have the technology yet to replace actual experience with virtual experience, and produce the same results, but never say never. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

This is not my field, but from a layman's perspective I must say that this technology is important for HE in a time where more and more students are admitted and the pressure on resources and al types of learning rooms/spaces increases VRL seems to be the future - also, the concept allows fast and relatively changes in the 'equipment'. - ole ole Aug 9, 2016
  • I agree with - ole ole that the potential impact of this technology is huge from the perspective of constrained resources. It is also important as education shifts away from face-to-face and co-located places for learning. Largely, though, I feel the benefits are primarily related to early learning opportunities in a field--introductory courses. A virtual lab is no real replacement for hands on surgery, for example, and simulations are limited only to what is already largely known about the subject matter. How many major scientific breakthroughs have occurred due to an "accident" in a virtual lab? - anthony.helm anthony.helm Aug 29, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016
  • It will greatly expand opportunities for students in various health professions to complete board requirements for clinical field experience.- deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016.
  • I am with Anthony on this one - access to laboratories for learners, irrespective of their physical location, is a wonderful idea in some cases, especially from a financil point of view, but can it really replace actually being there? Perhaps one day. In the meantime, all we can do is simulate various realities based upon previous data gained from real world laboratories. I would be much happier if my doctor had completed their training in an actual hospital with real people, rather than in a virtual lab, but perhaps that just makes me a little old fashioned? - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016 I absolutely agree and think that virtual training can provide a very useful addition but not an entire substitution.

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

  • Cincinnati Childrens Hospital medical students are working in this area for medical and patient education now. WGU is also exploring this technology. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Sep 6, 2016
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