The OpenScience Lab will improve access to practical science
Practical science is undergoing rapid changes, with technology making it possible to conduct some experiments and access data and facilities remotely – professional scientists can now work together across the globe. Until now, the new techniques of online working, and the new skills required, have not been well reflected in the teaching of practical science. A new initiative from The Open University, a world leader in online science education, is set to remedy this. A £1 million grant from The Wolfson Foundation is helping to establish The Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory, a global centre at the cutting edge of practical science teaching – operated entirely online.
Guided by rigorous research, The Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory will be a gateway to a range of scientific experiments and observations, many of which are developed by Open University scientists. Although operated entirely online, users will be able to access data from real physical instruments and equipment, enabling them to carry out authentic and rigorous science investigations. Professor Swithenby continues, “The future of science will be crucially dependent on working via a computer screen – the OU has already successfully taken up this challenge in education with the development of facilities like the virtual microscope. Although The OpenScience Laboratory is an online experience, users will be accessing real data and real equipment, a huge advance on oversimplified simulations.”
Operating as a virtual laboratory, The Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory will be designed so that colleagues across the sector and the globe can adopt it for use in their own teaching. It will offer:
•Remote access to laboratories and observatories, involving students operating real physical equipment controlled remotely – this method is already established in astronomy.
•Virtual laboratories and instruments – these will provide interfaces to real data and emulate physical equipment. Interactive screen experiments will include photo-realistic “point-of-view” recordings of physical experiments and replicate the behaviours of real specimens.
•Online field investigations – these may involve electronic access to a conventional field trip, or offer a virtual experience using satellite-borne and remotely operated sensors, where students can investigate specific environments, such as active volcanoes or polar sheets.
•Online collaboration – interfaces to collaborative instrument sharing will create environments for the discussion of design and data analysis.
Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said "This award recognises the importance of providing practical science experience to students on distance learning courses. The Open University is among the international pioneers in this field, and we look forward to the Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory making practical science available to many more students across the globe."
Notes to Editors