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  1. Gina Bennett
    April 23, 2013 - 8:37 am

    A timely & succinct post about the status of remote science labs, Tony.

    However, I do take exception to your statement “Thus ‘mainline’ science instructors are questioning whether experiments conducted remotely are ‘real’ science.” Oh, don’t I wish!!! But unfortunately, very few science instructors *are* questioning whether experiments that are conducted remotely can teach real science. Most science instructors I’ve talked to insist that science can only be learned effectively when the student is situated at a lab bench in the immediate vicinity of the lab teacher.
    I am dismayed — even a bit surprised — that this attitude not only lingers but seems to be promoted within the community of mainstream science educators. I have a formal science background myself (B.Sc. in Biological Sciences) & what I love about science is its focus on finding the truth, asking questions, finding data related to those questions, & forming conclusions based on what is discovered. But from what I can tell, most science educators are not asking the question, & they’re certainly NOT acknowledging the growing body of data which supports the educational value of remote science labs.
    I recently read an article about another innovative educational venture (at http://goo.gl/4w1aV), involving a comprehensive tutorial program conducted outside of the traditional classroom environment. The article was interesting enough but I was even more intrigued by a somewhat plaintive comment posted by ‘nunya’, who lamented “Isn’t face time with professors supposed to be worth something?” Such a good question! Science educators, it’s time to look critically at the role of ‘face time’ in science teaching, to refrain from imbuing it with magical qualities, & to apply the Scientific Method to your review of data supporting the value of ‘non-face-time’ ways of educating.

  2. Brian Mulligan
    April 24, 2013 - 12:02 am

    Such sceptical institutions need to be aware of other questions being asked. Recent research (sorry I don’t have a reference to hand) seems to show that most practical work in courses generates very little learning, probably because of the poor design of the practical challenges. I remember myself following laboratory instructions in university without the need for any significant thought. In addition, some years ago I read research indicating that students learned more with reduced time in labs and more time on simulators. Remote labs could be considered to be very high quality simulators. We have made remote labs in automation technology available to our distance learners for some years with great success. The first problem we had was that the light was turned off in the lab when students wished to access in the middle of the night. Then we had to make the equipment available to the full-time students who complained that they had access to labs for a few hours per week and the distance learners had access 24/7. By the way, the lecturers love the system.

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