Using remote laboratory experiments to develop learning outcomes in engineering practice

Lockett, Helen (2020). Using remote laboratory experiments to develop learning outcomes in engineering practice. In: Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference: Making Connections, Innovating and Sharing Pedagogy, 1-2 Jul 2020, University of Nottingham – virtual.



Remote laboratories allow students to undertake experiments using remotely controlled equipment over the internet (de Jong, 2018; Nedic et al., 2015) and have gained a great deal of interest in recent years as a means to deliver hands-on laboratory teaching to distance learning students. Brinson’s (2015) review paper shows that remote and virtual laboratories are being used to develop a wide range of learning outcomes, most commonly developing ‘knowledge and understanding’ but less frequently developing ‘practical skills’. This presentation will present our experience of developing a remote experiment to deliver learning outcomes in both knowledge and understanding and practical skills.

The Engineering Council AHEP framework (Engineering Council, 2014) requires that engineering graduates achieve output standards in engineering practice as one of six key areas of learning. The AHEP definition of engineering practice includes the understanding of relevant materials, tools and equipment and a practical knowledge of workshop and laboratory practice. In face to face settings, these learning outcomes are developed through hands-on laboratory sessions supported by a lecturer or demonstrator.

Remote laboratories at the Open University are delivered through the OpenSTEM Labs, a major initiative used across the STEM Faculty. Engineering undergraduates use the OpenSTEM Labs throughout their qualification, starting at FHEQ level 4 with observational experiments viewed through a live video stream, and building up to fully interactive experiments from FHEQ level 5. This presentation focuses on a level 5 remote experiment to investigate the strain in a pressure vessel wall, that was developed as part of a course on stress analysis. The experiment develops knowledge and understanding of stress and strain and also practical skills related to the use of engineering equipment, taking measurements and error analysis. The presentation will describe the experiment design and how the student activities were designed to meet the learning outcomes. A key challenge was to design a web interface for the remote experiment that would allow students to develop the required practical learning outcomes, replicating the student experience in a face-to-face setting as closely as possible.

The pressure vessel remote experiment was used for the first time in 2019 with a cohort 418 students in the T272 Core Engineering B module. The submission rate for the coursework task associated with the remote experiment was 96 % and the pass rate for the coursework was 80 %. There was a high level of engagement with the experiment and student feedback was generally positive, but further research is required to assess how effectively the learning outcomes were achieved compared to a conventional face-to-face laboratory.


de Jong T, Linn MC, Zacharia ZC. (2013) Physical and virtual laboratories in science and engineering education. Science, 340(6130):305-308.

Nedic Z, Machotka J, Nafalski A. (2003) Remote laboratories versus virtual and real laboratories. 33rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. Boulder, CO.

Brinson, J. R. (2015) Learning outcome achievement in non-traditional (virtual and remote) versus traditional (hands-on) laboratories: A review of the empirical research. Computers and Education, 87:218–237.

Engineering Council (2014) The Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes. Third edition

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