The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
Highly Commended at the 6th eSTEeM Scholarship Projects of the Year Awards 2023.
The OpenSTEM Labs (OSL) deliver authentic practical experiences to STEM students using real time instrumentation, data and equipment for practical enquiries over the internet. The OpenSTEM Labs is a major initiative at the Open University that is used across the STEM Faculty to deliver remote and virtual experiments to our distance learning students with some experiments also freely available to the public (Open University, 2021). The OSL now has more than 100 experiments across a wide range of subjects.
This project explores the breadth of learning objectives and skills developed in OpenSTEM Labs activities to help us to understand the learning that is developed in our existing activities and to aid the design of future activities.
The academic literature for remote and virtual laboratories was reviewed to clarify the terminology and understand the state of the art in the field. A classification scheme for remote and virtual experiments was then developed building on the findings of the literature review. The classification scheme was used to map a representative sample of OSL activities, providing a searchable database of activities. The database has given us a better understanding of the range of interaction types and learning objectives that are developed in OpenSTEM Labs activities. For example, highlighting differences in approach between different academic disciplines and identifying some gaps in coverage of learning objectives. The most common learning objectives were “develop subject knowledge and understanding” and “analyse and interpret data” and the least common were “identify and deal with health and safety issues” and “behave with high ethical standards”.
In the future, the classification scheme and database will be useful for module teams in the early stages of module production to help them design practical activities that address a wide range of learning objectives or to search for existing activities that could meet their learning needs. A catalogue of OSL activities has also been created as an easy-to-read reference document.