Remote laboratories in the post-pandemic world

As we begin to put the pandemic behind us, we look back on the changes it has brought us, and education is no exception.

One indisputable fact is that in this short period, profound progress has been made in the digitization of classrooms and the digital literacy of teachers, parents, and students. 

Learning to use video conferencing software and other digital tools has accelerated exponentially compared to the slow and weary pace of previous years. Certainly, one of the challenges is to know which ones will continue to be used and which ones will be forgotten.

Our students are spending more and more time and are more receptive to formats accessible from their devices. As teachers, we can channel their attention towards a professional use of these devices and show them the undeniable potential they have in the educational and professional sphere. Many of the tasks they will perform in their future jobs will take place in virtual environments, so not only should they not be a world apart, but we have to teach them how to integrate them into their daily lives.

While videoconferencing has contributed to transferring face-to-face pedagogical models to distance education, the incorporation of other digital services has opened new horizons in the educational landscape. One of these, in my view, is remote laboratories, because of their dual nature that combines the physical reality we have longed for with the advantages of virtual worlds.

A remote lab has a concrete physical location that is accessed through a web browser. In other words, they exist in the real world and we access them through virtuality. All we need is a device and an internet connection. The multiple connectors, peripherals, and cameras bring to the screen of our computer, tablet, or mobile phone the experiences that until recently we could only live in very specific spaces and give us access to sophisticated equipment, sometimes difficult to access, such as a radioactivity laboratory.

Remote laboratories break space-time limitations by being available at any time and from anywhere. Their availability goes beyond school hours and the availability of the educational center. From our own homes, we can access laboratories located anywhere in the world, regardless of the time of day. The result is an increase in the number of hours of practice to which students have access, thus multiplying the possibilities for hands-on experimentation.

More than ever, the teacher becomes a learning guide for his or her students, who can practice at their own pace and repeat the experiments and observations as often as they need to and feed their curiosity, a fundamental element for the development of scientific vocations. More than ever, as a society, we are aware that without science there is no future.

It is in our hands to separate the wheat from the chaff, that is, to identify and incorporate those tools that enrich learning and prepare our students for their professional future. The challenge is there.