Remote Teaching Laboratories in Chemistry

Dietmar Kennepohl is Professor of Chemistry and Associate Vice President Academic at Athabasca University, Canada’s leading distance-education and online university. Over the years, his research interests have included chemical education as well as petroleum, main group and coordination chemistry. His research in chemical education concentrates on the use of innovative distance delivery methods for undergraduate laboratory work including the development of home-study laboratory kits and the establishment of the Canadian Remote Sciences Laboratories portal, done in collaboration with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).


Students in natural sciences do not only need an extensive theoretical background. A crucial part of their education is gaining laboratory experiences as well. When it comes to e-learning, delivering these experiences is a quite a challenge. How can a student in chemistry take part in experiments without being on-site? A possible solution is offering remote access to laboratory equipment. Professor Kennepohl and his team developed teaching experiments based on the control of analytical instruments in real time via the Internet. This approach enables students to work in a simulated lab environment where they can take part in actual experiments.


“Remote experiences are the best alternative to working in a real laboratory”, explains Kennepohl. “They are a step beyond the computer-generated laboratory.” Remote teaching laboratories are being used in four basic ways: to allow observations of natural phenomenon or experiments, to carry out measurements, to manipulate instruments or physical objects in experiments and to facilitate collaborative work at a distance. Modern chemical analysis  highly depends on the use of computer systems. They control instrument setpoints and also acquire, analyse and present data. The broad use of computers in laboratories makes it possible to realise remote control of the instrumentation.


In distance learning, remote control enhances the opportunity to learn the subject matter and also provides direct practical experience with instruments in exactly the manner they are operated in a modern laboratory on-site. Kennepohl’s approach involves the adoption of a client-server application to a teaching environment. Students can do real-time analysis using equipment, methods and skills that are common to modern analytical laboratories or sophisticated teaching laboratories. They obtain real results just as they would if they were in the laboratory with the equipment.


Kennepohl argues that learning with remote experimentations has numerous advantages. “It is a natural adjunct to distance education courses in chemistry,” he explains. “With good feedback and ancillary materials, we suggest that distance education implementation of laboratories through remote access techniques can only gain in importance and contribute in a significant way to science education.”


At Online Educa Berlin, Dietmar Kennepohl will present and discuss his work on Remote Teaching Laboratories in the session  UNI03: Preparing for the Future in Higher Education, taking place on Thursday, November 29, 11:45 – 13:15


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