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?

  • Definitely reduces cost for the organization, allows for "safe failure" and allows students to engage individually, not in a group setting...thus, reducing the experience. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Oct 13, 2013
  • I'm not sure if I'm "expanding" the concept, but I want to refer to "virtual computar labs" (at the end, they are virtual labs too, don't you)?. In countries where income disparity is a constant (like mine, Colombia), the possibility to build virtual computer labs is very nice because not all students have access to the same kind of devide (tablets, portables, desktops, etc..) at home. So, when they are at home they can not work on specialized software required for homework or projects. Virtual computer labs are based on "virtual client technology" (citrix, vmware, hyper-v, etc..) which is already mature technology on servers (virtual servers based on the same providers). With virtual computer labs, any kind of computer has the possibility to run any kind of softwaer because all the power is comming from the servers and not from the device it self. So, art, architecture, and design students can use Sketch Up, 3D SMAX, Adobe Creative on any device, given that GPU power is supplied to the servers (using NVIDIA Grid for example http://www.nvidia.com/object/remotefx.html. (- jreinoso jreinoso Oct 26, 2013)

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

  • I'd include virtual computer labs in the description or virtual graphical computer labs
  • add your response here

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

  • Allows for students to engage with others across universities, different time zones and culturally. Students can link globally, not just with students in their assigned class. Opens the door for a mobile, 24/7 environment. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Oct 13, 2013
  • It will allow universities to reduce the digital gap between students comming from different econnomical levels as is common in Latin American Universities (for example). Also, this technology help to provide a better experience for distant learnerns. (- jreinoso jreinoso Oct 26, 2013)

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

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