As many Universities need to quickly move their learning online during the current coronavirus crisis, we have received many questions about our remote and virtual laboratories. This blog collects together useful information about our OpenSTEM Labs and provides links to online resources.
This blog post is a working document – check back here for updates.
What are the OpenSTEM Labs?
The OpenSTEM Labs are the Open University’s remote and virtual laboratories that we use to deliver practical, hands-on learning to our distance learning students. The mission of the OpenSTEM Labs is to give students access to real experiments, using real data and in real time, wherever they are. We provide a mix of remote experiments that allow students to control real equipment remotely, and onscreen (or virtual) experiments where students engage with real data in a simulated environment. Students interact with the all experiments via a web browser. The OpenSTEM Labs have been developed over the last 10 years with support from the Wolfson Foundation and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. We have developed more than 100 experiments in subjects from life sciences and chemistry, to physics, astronomy and engineering.
You can read more about the OpenSTEM Labs here.
Can I use OpenSTEM Labs activities with my students?
We provide free access to some of our onscreen activities. These activities allow students to engage with real data, but do not rely on physical equipment and are scalable to large numbers of users. Click on this link to register for a free account that will allow you to try the activities.
Free activities include:
- virtual microscopes (with slide collections for histology and histopathology, earth sciences, ‘A’ level students, and a variety of slides available at virtualmicroscope.org).
- Flame test – a simple demonstration of the characteristic colours produced by metallic salts in flames
- Spirometer – investigate the impact of smoking on lung function
- Hominoid Skull Evolution – explore the features of a collection of hominoid skulls
- Variations in vegetation – part of a virtual environmental field trip to the River Teign
- iSpot – identify anything in nature – a guide to help you develop your skills and interest in nature
- treezilla – map and record Britain’s trees using Citizen Science
We are currently offering free access to some of our remote laboratory experiments. These experiments use real equipment located in our labs, and therefore have limited capacity that is managed using a booking system. You can visit a showcase page to access our free remote laboratory experiments here. The showcase page provides short taster exercises and instructions on how to register for a free account to try the experiments for yourself. The experiments available on the showcase page are:
- Pendulum exercise – take control of a pendulum and capture its motion on a graph
- Fourier exercise – switch on a “light beam chopper” and analyse the rectangular wave it produces
- Radio telescope – scan the galaxy
Access to these experiments is currently free, but is subject to availability. Access will be reviewed after 31st July 2020.
Working with us
If you are interested in using any of our remote laboratories or associated teaching materials in your courses in the future, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remote facilities include:
- Remote Observatories
- Mars yard for mars rover testing
- Scanning electron microscopes
- Electronics experiments
- Pressure Vessel experiment
- Wind tunnels (under development)
- Thermodynamics ideal gas law (under development)
You can find more detailed information about our pedagogy and the development of some of the OpenSTEM Labs activities in the following papers:
Brodeur, Marcus; Minocha, Shailey; Kolb, Ulrich and Braithwaite, Nicholas (2015). Designing online laboratories for optimal effectiveness: undergraduate priorities for authenticity, sociability and metafunctionality. In: 15th International Conference on Technology, Policy and Innovation, 17-19 Jun 2015, The Open University, Milton Keynes.
Kolb, Ulrich; Brodeur, Marcus; Braithwaite, N St.J and Minocha, Shailey (2018). A robotic telescope for university-level distance teaching. Robotic Telescopes, Student Research and Education Proceedings,, 1(1) pp. 127–136.