Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.10A, 33-39
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 33
The Remote Laboratory as a Teaching Resource in
the Scientific and Technological Training
Sonia B. Concari1,2, Susana T. Marchisio2
1Facultad Regional Rosario, Universidad Tecnológica Nacional, Rosario, Argentina
2Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Ingeniería y Agrimensura, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Rosari o , Argentina
Received August 27th, 2013; r evised September 27th, 2013; accepted October 4th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Sonia B. Concari, Susana T. Marchisio. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the orig inal work is properly cited.
The advances obtained in the field of knowledge of the information and communication technologies
(ICT), transformed into a wide range of applications, methods and techniques, have forwarded the devel-
opment of distance learning through the Internet. When distance learning is linked to disciplines such as
Physics, Chemistry and Engineering, the best-known learning management systems (LMS) make it possi-
ble to develop some practical activities but these turn out narrow when it is necessary to encourage learn-
ing processes through experimental activities. During the last decades, and mostly in the countries in the
north hemisphere, this need found a way for the exploration of possibilities, in the development of the
remote laboratories. The challenge is that the inclusion of these laboratories in the curriculum is done
within the frame of strategies that add value to the teaching processes, giving real chances for the building
of learning experiences. This work aims at sharing the findings and thoughts arisen from the analysis of
some significant number of experiences carried out by the authors, from the inclusion of the remote labo-
ratory as a complementary teaching resource in different educational environments: courses of Physics for
the teaching of Engineering at National Universities, postgraduate training and teaching training.
Keywords: Remote Laboratory; Scientific Training; Teaching Resources
The advances in the field of knowledge of the information
and communication technologies (ICT), many of which trans-
ferred to contexts of use as a wide range of applications, meth-
ods and techniques, have become great allies in the develop-
ment of distance education through the Internet. Several de-
vices and web environments facilitate, among others, the in-
formation management, the availability and distribution of mul-
timedia materials, the collaborative development of learning
activities, the customization of learning strategies, and the two-
way and multi-way communication (synchronous and asyn-
chronous), irrespective of the place. Without being exclusion-
ary, in the field of formal education, the most widespread are
the learning management systems (LMS) or platforms, which—
although becoming stronger and stronger by the emerging so-
cial communication tools—are limited when supplying distance
education in the field of experimental disciplines. We agree
with García Zubia et al. (2009) that it is true that it is possible
to carry out some practical activities through the use of those
systems (exercises, exams, on-line delivery of projects, etc.);
however it is also true that purely practical activities belonging
to experimental or technical branches such as Chemistry, Phys-
ics or Engineering, cannot find a complete solution within those
systems. In these disciplines, the classroom has always been
full of resources, tools, different kinds of technologies and has
had different teaching aims. Some of them, are used as a sup-
port for the representation of messages in different formats,
others are within the contexts of laboratories or practice class-
rooms, whether in academic or professional environments, for
the acquisition of skills and abilities as forwarding bridges for
the building of knowledge, for scientific training, of design or
innovation, for the development of professional skills, among
others. The need to keep the development of laboratory prac-
tices (which imply interaction with teams, materials and phe-
nomena in real situations) has become in those cases the addi-
tional conditioner for the institutions when designing and car-
rying out—without quality loss—remote teaching offers.
During the last decades, and mostly in the countries in the
north hemisphere, this need has found a way for the exploration
of possibilities, in the development of the remote laboratories.
Remote Laboratories
Remote labs are systems that comprise real devices, materi-
als and instruments, organized for the fulfillment of experi-
ments controlled by a remote operator. That way, apart from the
real laboratories and the virtual ones based on simulations,
remote laboratories are being used in the teaching of Engineer-
ing (Auer, 2001), in general, shared by several institutions
(Grober, 2008).
Both, ordinary and remote labs require space and devices; all
the equipment required to perform the experiment is physically
set up. But in remote labs the students who perform the ex-
periment are not physically present in the lab; they obtain data
by controlling geographically distant equipment.
For our point of view, ordinary (hands-on) laboratories in-
volve a physically real investigation process; provide the stu-
dents with real data and confrontation with contingency, while
remote lab allows new ways of experimentation and, in educa-
tional terms, it focuses on conceptual understanding. Student’s
attention is focused mainly on the analysis of results that come
from a real experimentation. These labs can extend the capabil-
ity of a conventional laboratory and increases the number of
times and places a student can perform the experiments.
It is not always clear that its use is sustained on a framework
of strategies to promote learning building processes (Concari et
al., 2012). Regarding this, several authors have highlighted as
advantages from these laboratories: the possibility of free ex-
periencing on real devices without being physically present in a
laboratory; the flexi time to fulfill practices; the saving of time
in tasks done in the traditional laboratory; the safety and confi-
dence at experiencing on expensive equipment (Ibarra et al.,
2007). Other benefits highlighted in the bibliography are: the
improvement in the availability of laboratory equipment; the
increase of laboratory practices; flexi time for experimenting
(Saire et al., 2008); the possibility to carry out experiments in a
more open way in which students develop skills to solve prob-
lems, watch, understand and analyse the outcomes the same
way researchers do (Knight, 2003). From our point of view, the
challenge is that while existing developments are being spread
and experimented in different educational contexts, the inclu-
sion of these laboratories in the curriculum should be framed
within proposals that add value to teaching, giving real learning
opportunities. In connection with this, the present work aims at
sharing the main findings and thoughts arising from the analy-
sis of educational experiences carried out by the authors in the
scientific and technological educational environment, regarding
the use of two remote laboratories developed in our country.
About Two Remote Laboratories Developed in
In our country, the development and use of remote laborato-
ries have been disseminated over the last years; some authors
(Lerro & Protano, 2007; Monje et al., 2009; López Luro et al.,
2009; Masanet et al., 2011), who describe the developments
belonging to Universidad Nacional de Rosario (UNR), Univer-
sidad Nacional del Litoral (UNL), Universidad Nacional de San
Juan (UNSJ) and Universidad Nacional de Comahue (UNCo)
can be mentioned. At UNR and UNL, the laboratories have
started within the framework of projects, whether as the ending
of career (Lerro & Protano, 2007), of research (Monje et al.,
2009) or aiming at being transferred to the productive environ-
ment (Saéz de Arregui et al., 2013). Furthermore, the latter
have been used in the fieldwork of doctoral thesis (San
Cristóbal, 2010; Orduña, 2013) and masters degrees (Culzoni,
2013) and they have an important amount of students’ and
teachers’ experiences of use in different educational contexts,
in Argentina and abroad, involving classroom-based and remote
teaching, engineering graduate and postgraduate, teachers’
training at different levels and teaching training advanced stu-
dents. Staying at UNL, the “Galilei Group Remote Laboratory”
is used at teachers’ training institutions and at Universidad
Nacional de Formosa, Universidad Nacional de Rio Cuarto,
Universidad Tecnológica Nacional, at Facultad Regional Ro-
sario and Facultad Regional Rafaela, whereas from UNR, the
“FCEIA-UNR Remote laboratory” is also being experimented
by Universidad de Deusto, in Spain.
The Galilei Group Remote Laboratory
The web site for this Remote Laboratory is http://galileo4.unl.
The software used to access remotely is in applet Java format.
In order to be able to execute it, it is necessary to install the
plug-in JRE (Java Runtime Environment).
The laboratory provides three experiments. Nowadays we
aim at improving the interactivity of the user’s interfaces and at
achieving more strength in two of the systems containing mo-
bile parts.
The experiments include topics about roto-translation me-
chanics, transient and state electrical circuits and magnetostatic.
Figure 1 shows the access to the remote laboratory of Gali-
leo Group.
Study of the Roto-Translation Motion of a Wheel in
Sloping Railways
A wheel is a mechanical device with an important moment of
inertia used to store rotating energy. The equipment measures
the duration of all the movement along the railway. Accelera-
tion (considered steady) is calculated from the data obtained.
The system consists of a pair of parallel rails pivoted at a point
near the centre that allows for the motion of rails in a vertical
direction from one extreme, in order to select the inclination
angle. The whole of it is connected to an acquisition board that
digitalizes the information: position and time obtained during
motion. While the wheel is rotating and moving along the rails,
the corresponding values for position and time are observed in a
diagram. It allows the user to select, as a parameter, the inclina-
tion angle, thus obtaining the results in a diagram and in num-
bers. The diagrams obtained can be stored in a jpg format,
whereas data can be exported to be later processed with mathe-
matical software to facilitate further analysis. It is possible to
see the experience live by using an IP camera that supplies im-
ages (
RC Electric Circuits and RLC Transients
This experience is aimed at exploring the behavior of RC
electric circuits in charge and discharge, RL in charge and RLC
in charge and discharge
It is about the first development of this Remote Laboratory;
it is also the one that practically works non-stop and without
problems. The physical system is made up of an approximately
6V battery, an inductor, a set of capacitors and one set of resis-
tors. All the elements can be connected or disconnected through
electromagnetic keys (relays) which are electronically operated.
In turn, the system as a whole is controlled from the Internet
server, so the remote user can set the circuit, fulfill the experi-
ences and obtain the data about them through diagrams and
values charts. The data acquisition interface (A/D board) does
measurements every 2 kHz. The data from the experiments can
be recorded in a text file and then can be processed with some
mathematical software or just with a spreadsheet. The follow-
ing experiments can be set up: charge and discharge of a ca-
pacitor through a resistor, RL electric circuit, and RLC electric
circuit in charge and discharge. In these latter events it is possi-
le to observe and to study the electromagnetic oscillations, b
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 35
Figure 1.
Web page of the remote laboratory of Galileo Group.
Remot e Laborato ry of Electronic Physics analysing the differences between the ideal model and the ex-
periment, mai nly because the inductor has a rolled iron nucleus
and the effects of material hysteresis and eddy currents are
The straight access to the Electronic Physics Remote Labo-
ratory is; no plug-in or addi-
tional applications are necessary on the web browser. This fea-
ture makes it strong as regards access possibilities; from any
computer with a few requirements in a cyber café, the student
can connect and do the experiences, by using a personalized
user’s name and password. Nowadays it is possible to rehearse
remotely: 1) PN junction diode in forward bias; 2) PN junction
diode under reverse bias, 3) Zener diode under one-step for-
ward and reverse bias; 4) germanium bipolar transistor in active
and reverse modes; 5) silicon bipolar transistor in active and
reverse modes; 6) one one-junction transistor; 7) field effect
transistors; 8) phototransistor; 9) infrared led.
Magnetic Field of a Solenoid
The physical system consists of a great solenoid (60 cm of
length and 16 cm of diameter and with 2052 spires), whose
dimensions do not fit to the “ideal” type and a couple of Hall
effect sensors placed at 90º from each other, with which two
components of the magnetic field can be measured (http://gali-
The measuring point can be moved to different positions,
both inside or outside the solenoid, being it possible to ma-
nipulate the system through the Internet as a remote experiment.
Field values can be measured in independent places as well as
collection of data can be obtained along the lines parallel to the
axis of the solenoid or in a radial direction. The system includes
a simulation of the system, with which it is possible to calculate
the field at different points through the Biot and Savart law and
to modify the different parameters of the solenoid, thus being
possible to approach an ideal device. The remote experiment,
linked to the simulation, can be used to study the magnetic field
of a solenoid, by comparing the values obtained through ex-
perimentation, to the ones that can be calculated using the Am-
pere and the Biot and Savart laws. It is possible to analyze the
convergent of the magnetic field values, calculated with both
laws, as the solenoid tends to ideal.
Remote operation mode with the system is very easy. In the
main menu, if you select “new test”, the user can choose the
device and the test conditions through a drop-down menu. In
the operation window, for every experiment there is a scheme
of the circuit concerned and the technical specifications sheet of
the device. Depending on the interest or the convenience for the
required analysis, it is possible to request the following: tests at
different temperatures, tests on isolated points, curve sections
or complete curves. Results are shown as graphics and charts.
During the fulfillment of the experiment, the events are kept in
the laboratory database server so the user can recover the in-
formation, see the results of the experiment at any time and
export data as xls file and the graphic as a gif image. It is possi-
ble to modify the graphic scale on the results screen in order to
improve the visualization of eventual peculiarities of the re-
sulting curve thus allowing for better analysis.
Remote Laboratory FCEIA-UNR This laboratory is also integrated into an “e-educativa” plat-
form (Lerro et al., 2013), and it can be accessed without addi-
tional validation from the virtual classroom itself. Students
have the other teaching materials in that classroom, as simula-
This laboratory consists of the “Electronic Physics Remote
Laboratory” and the “Mobile-remote laboratory for the surveil-
lance of thermal solar energy efficiency”.
tions (applets), hypermedia system (Marchisio et al., 2004,
2006) and written materials. They carry out the communicative
exchanges (in forums, messages, chat, etc.) for the collaborative
building and they hand in the activities. In the subject Physics
IV which is part of the career of Electronic Engineering at UNR
its use is also articulated with the experimental activities in the
laboratory of traditional practices, for the teaching of the main
properties of basic electronic devices.
By selecting the curricular experimental activities and by
adjusting the instructions related to them according to the de-
sired educational aims, this laboratory has been used, besides,
within the framework of teaching training courses at different
levels, in subjects in postgraduate careers and in refreshment
courses dealing with the inclusion of ICT in higher technologi-
cal education. Besides, it has been affiliated since 2013 to the
WebLab-Deusto (Orduña et al., 2013), as can be seen at Figure
2. The latter is, in turn, affiliated to the MIT remote iLab labo-
ratory, thus allowing students and teachers from the universiti es
concerned to have access from their own Laboratory systems to
the experiments that they wish to share from among the ones
developed at ea ch institution.
Mobile R emote Laboratory for the in-Situ Measuring
of Energy Efficiency of Solar Water Heaters
In our country, mainly in rural areas, there are solar water
heaters in general aimed at supplying the complementary re-
newable thermal energy to the traditional one in homes. These
water heaters need frequent monitoring; particularly, it is im-
portant to control their energy efficiency after some time. To do
this, it is normally required to take them out of use and carry
them to a centre that measures the required parameters under
experimental conditions. In order to measure the same parame-
ters in the same solar water heaters, but now under working
conditions, in the same place where they are installed, the so-
called “mobile remote laboratory” was designed and developed
with transfer but also educational aims. It consists of: a mobile
device interacting with the solar water heater under study and
its surrounding environment. The device collects information,
processes it and transmits the interesting values of physical
volume via Internet and/or a mobile phone network to a differ-
ent fixed device placed in the building of Exact Sciences, En-
gineering and Land Surveys College (Facultad de Ciencias
Exactas, Ingeniería y Agrimensura—FCEIA). This device re-
ceives the data from the field to be later processed and analysed
(Saez de Arregui et al., 2013).
The development was carried out within the framework of
the Postgraduate practical training activities inside the institu-
tional space of the Renewable Energies Laboratory of the Mas-
ter Degree in Energies for Sustainable Development. It is an
interdisciplinary team and its members are researchers and
students of the career and from the Remote Tests Laboratory of
the FCEIA. This articulation has helped to optimize resources
and to boost learning and services. Apart from becoming a
teaching resource for several subjects in the career, its design
and development have been carried out by postgraduate stu-
dents as a project including the training itself, the innovation
and its transfer to society as goals. Thus, as products of the
project called “Thermal solar energy mobile remote laboratory.
Innovation technology for tests/solutions leading to energy
saving”, the devices developed are available in order to analyse
the behavior of solar water heaters in different regions under
different climatic situations solving the problems mentioned
before. The project was preselected in the 2012 INNOVAR
contest and the mobile remote laboratory was shown in
Possibilities and Educational Difficulties
Once the technological problem is settled, the main questions
arise from a teaching nature: How can the remote laboratory be
included into the teaching in different contexts? Which teaching
strategies shall include it? Is it necessary to have certain condi-
tions for the remote laboratory to become a teaching resource?
Which condition? How shall learning be tested? These ques-
tions have given birth to teaching experiences developed in the
different training contexts in order to test them under situations
of use, where over two thousand users among students and
teachers took part.
In this regard, in no case have these laboratories substituted
the experimental activities in the traditional laboratory. With
the aim of giving students different significant and convergent
forms of knowledge building, the activities suggested to stu-
dents by using the remote laboratory were designed to promote
the development of those cognitive strategies known as useful
in the environment of experimental sciences and engineering
teaching and integrated to other teaching resources. These are
framed within problem-solving and design activities that de-
mand for search and contrast of experimental information, the
building of hypothesis of control variables, the development of
synthesis and integration with theoretical knowledge, the com-
parison and building of models (Lerro et al., 2012; Kofman &
Concari, 2012) and the collaborative production of knowledge
from the integration of hypermedia environments (Lerro et al.,
The Achievements
The results for uses in such contexts report that the technical
and teaching requirements have been adapted to the suggested
learning aims; that the experiments that have a web cam could
be visualized with very good resolution; that students could
carry out the experiments, obtain and process data and do the
required calculations, in a collaborative way and engaged with
the task assigned, to test the resource and to suggest interesting
improvements in the design, getting involved and engaged with
the task. Learning experiences in the environment of graduate
university degree have been evaluated through the solving of
new problems at formal academic testing—term and mid-term
exams—showing significant learning (Kofman et al., 2011;
Marchisio et al., 2010).
On the other hand, using remote laboratories with engineer-
ing students helped them to get in touch with technologies and
methodologies connected to remote measuring that they shall
use as future professionals. All this happens simultaneously in
situations in which the collective takes place as a production
space, along a process that compromises ways of approaching
and developing technologies such as occurs in the professional
environments today. All this has been deeply valued by univer-
sity degree (Concari et al., 2012) and postgraduate (Saez de
Arregui et al., 2012) students.
In the field of teaching training, teachers from Escuela In-
dustrial Superior and from UNL in Santa Fe, and teachers from
the Instituto Politécnico Superior from UNR, and from UTN, in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 37
Figure 2.
Remote labs from WebLab-D eus to at UN R.
Rosario have been trained through face-to-face workshops.
Teachers from Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, from teacher
training institutions in the south of Mendoza state and from
high schools from Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Corrientes and
Misiones, got in touch with these remote laboratories through a
remote learning course within the framework of teaching
strategies that include the use of ICT in Physics problem-solv-
ing activities in an integrated way. The design of courses and
workshops included activities integrating disciplinary contents
and teaching methodologies. The training instances offered
spaces for collective thoughts, scarce in high schools in Argen-
tina. Inquiry and critical thoughts processes were encouraged;
these make it possible to question and build teaching styles
coherent with different kinds of knowledge and educational
contexts. The thought arising from the analysis of this amount
of experiences allows us to say that these remote laboratories
are not just suitable resources in order to make it easier for
students to access the experimenting at any place and time.
These can also become media for the encouragement of indi-
vidual constructive processes of significant scientific learning
that simplify the joint action (Coll, 2004) among students and
teachers, both in a web environment and in face-to-face in-
stances, improving dictations in the “suitable curricular mo-
ment”, including experimental observation into the context of
theoretical construction. From the point of view of the analysis
of educational results, the evaluation carried out by students
allows us to value the experience as highly positive. When
asking about their opinions on the use of this resource in the
framework of active learning strategies (Marchisio et al., 2010)
students have not only shown their satisfaction and done inter-
esting assessments as suggestions for improvements; they have
also accounted for their involvement in decision-making over
their own learning process.
From the point of view of interdisciplinary teams involved in
the development, design and use of these resources, we should
highlight how remote experimenting with testing and research
aims in connection with the educational possibilities of the
resource have created opportunities for the setting up of re-
search and teaching collaborative networks with participation
of Argentine and foreign universities. However, not all has
turned out positive. From the tests fulfilled the existence of
some constraints has also occurred. Among difficulties or pro-
blems to overcome there are some issues of a technical nature,
intrinsic to the experiment; other technical ones but associated
to the technological management in institutions and, finally,
some drawbacks associated to acceptance (or non acceptance)
by teachers. As regards problems, the following are high-
Execution time for mechanical experiments is quite long.
Beyond time normally required due to the nature of the experi-
ment, when there are several students trying to access the ex-
periment at the same time, the system makes them hold on. It
causes impatience and some people leave or delay the activity.
Slowness and instability of some Internet academic networks
and institutional use of protection systems that jam certain not
normally used ports but that must be necessarily accessible in
remote experiments.
Not all teachers having access to the remote laboratory as a
resource have included it in teaching contexts. As all brand new
technology, it is not immediately included in the classroom
environment. It is a process that demands for higher knowledge
and experimentation by the teacher; the analysis and visualiza-
tion of its potential use; curricular thought; exchange of ideas
with partners in the classroom environment; changes in the
ordinary teaching methods, among other actions.
Conclusion and Future Work
Remote labs open the doors to the university labs so that
students can go into them and perform different experiences on
subjects based on Physics both for engineering and sciences
Future work will follow two directions. Technological de-
velopment has to be done to adapt access to remote labs from
smart phones, so students could do the experiments using these
dispositives from any place where there is an Internet connec-
Also other next working stage will be centered on the inves-
tigation of the evaluation criteria from a didactic point of view
of the remote labs applying them to get information that will
allow us to optimize its use for educational purposes.
This work has been realized by grants of Universidad Tec-
nológica Nacional and Universidad Nacional de Rosario Ro-
sario in the frame of projects: UTN-25/M064, UNR-1ING374
and UNR-1ING396.
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