Paul Stacey


Science for all, from big to small

This week my friend and colleague Gina Bennett sent me an e-mail with a subject line saying, “Science for all, from big to small”.

She went on to tell me some of the latest news about a Web-Based Associate of Science curriculum project BCcampus has supported over the years. The project has been running for 3+ years now. Ron Evans, of North Island College, has been the project leader with Gina and the College of The Rockies where she works playing a supporting role and being joined along the way by a variety of other college & university partners.

The Web-based Associate of Science project started as an ambitious extension of Ron Evan’s distance-delivered astronomy course. In his astronomy courses, students are able to remotely control a telescope equipped with a camera situated at Tatla Lake in northern British Columbia. Using the photos & data obtained to complete their lab reports students learn about some of the largest objects (planets, stars, galaxies, etc.) in the study of science. See http://rwsl.nic.bc.ca/tloo/ for more.

Just last week the project acquired an online microscope which is now being configured for remote access so that students can learn about some of the smallest objects (bacterial cells etc.) in the study of science.

Gina went on to say, “it just occurred to me how cool this is that such breadth in the study of science is becoming available to ALL postsecondary students in BC, regardless of location or time constraints.”

It is totally cool and I thought I’d provide more context and links regarding this project.

The Web‐based Associate of Science Project envisions an entirely web deliverable option for the BC Associate of Science degree program. It includes both the theory and lab components of the curriculum. Delivering the lab components over the web is the crucial challenge in this project.

To meet this challenge Ron and his partners are creating a Remote Web‐based Science Laboratory (RWSL) which provides a web‐based and robotic interface between the student and the lab equipment allowing actual laboratory exercises to be performed in real time while collecting authentic data and even making mistakes.

I encourage you to check out the Remote Web-based Science Laboratory web site at:
http://rwsl.nic.bc.ca/
Of special interest in terms of understanding the idea are the videos at:
http://rwsl.nic.bc.ca/videos.html

RWSL consists of the LabVIEW web interface, from National Instruments (http://www.ni.com/labview).
Students can remotely control cameras, sensors, and manipulation tools like the robotic arm
(http://www.aai.ca/robots/h_arm.html).

While non‐science educational content has moved to web‐based formats with relative ease, the laboratory components of science courses have proven difficult to deliver via the web. Simulations are instructive, but they are not widely accepted as valid lab experience. RWSL allows laboratory based exercises to be delivered entirely over the Internet to student lab groups who perform these actual lab exercises in real time by controlling the lab equipment remotely. The data collected in this way is authentic data from a real‐world experience and students analyze it in the same way that they would if they had collected it while in the laboratory themselves.

As Ron, points out in one of his proposals “This is analogous to scientists collecting data through a robotic deep‐sea submersible or through the Mars Exploration Rovers and is something that is occurring more and more in science today. The scientists cannot be on site, but the data they are collecting is every bit as valid as it would be if they were.”

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