Using remote and onscreen laboratories in online learning

This was original published by Helen Lockett in Design education On April 8, 2020.

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 documentcheck 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?

Onscreen activities:

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:

Remote Laboratories:

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:

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 openstemlabs@open.ac.uk.

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)

Further information

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.

Drysdale, Timothy D. and Braithwaite, N. St.J. (2017). An internet of laboratory things. In: 2017 4th Experiment@International Conference (exp.at’17), pp. 236–240.

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.

Published by helenlockett

I joined the Open University in April 2017 as Senior Lecturer in Engineering and was appointed Director of the OpenSTEM Labs in 2019. I am a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and have more than 20 years research experience in design for manufacture and CAD/CAM/CAE.

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