Evaluation of the Use of Remote Laboratories for Secondary School Science Education
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Laboratory experimentation is generally considered central to science-based education. Allowing students to “experience” science through various forms of carefully designed practical work, including experimentation, is often claimed to support their learning and motivate their engagement while fulfilling specific curriculum requirements. However, logistical constraints (most especially related to funding) place significant limitations on the ability of schools to provide and maintain high-quality science laboratory experiences and equipment. One potential solution that has recently been the subject of growing interest is the use of remotely accessible laboratories to either supplant, or more commonly to supplement, conventional hands-on laboratories. Remote laboratories allow students and teachers to use high-speed networks, coupled with cameras, sensors, and controllers, to carry out experiments on real physical laboratory apparatus that is located remotely from the student. Research has shown that when used appropriately this can bring a range of potential benefits, including the ability to share resources across multiple institutions, support access to facilities that would otherwise be inaccessible for cost or technical reasons, and provide augmentation of the experimental experience. Whilst there has been considerable work on evaluating the use of remote laboratories within tertiary education, consideration of their role within secondary school science education is much more limited. This paper describes trials of the use of remote laboratories within secondary schools, reporting on the student and teacher reactions to their interactions with the laboratories. The paper concludes that remote laboratories can be highly beneficial, but considerable care must be taken to ensure that their design and delivery address a number of critical issues identified in this paper.
KeywordsScience Experimentation Remote laboratories
The authors would like to acknowledge the generous support of the James N. Kirby Foundation in supporting the work described in this paper. We would also like to acknowledge the insightful comments from the reviewers of the earlier versions of this paper, and particularly for their comments regarding consideration of students' attitudes towards laboratory work, and the importance of considering practical work more broadly.
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