U.S. students use Australian lab equipment

Nov. 17, 2009 at 11:08 AM
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EVANSTON, Ill., Nov. 17 (UPI) -- About 1,000 U.S. middle and high school students have been using science equipment in Australia without having to leave their classrooms.

The ability to use lab equipment thousands of miles distant is a feature of the iLab Network, supported by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant that's shared by Northwestern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Associate Professor Kemi Jona, director of Northwestern University's Office of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Partnerships, said students become excited when, via a live Webcam, they can turn on equipment at Australia's University of Queensland and it begins following their instructions.

"iLabs demonstrate how innovative learning technologies can level the playing field and provide all students -- regardless of a school's location or resources -- access to advanced and authentic science lab experiences," Jona said. "The remote labs are not just about building skills. They're also about exciting students and motivating students to pursue majors and careers in science, engineering, technology and mathematics."

Jona said with classroom time at a premium, a typical high school lab has to fit within a 45-minute period and is conducted only a single time.

"But doing a lab once, writing down the answer and moving on is antithetical to how science experiments actually are conducted," Jona said. "It creates a false perception of how real world science is practiced."

In an era of budget cuts, Jona said the iLab Network presents a potentially new model in which districts or states could share the cost of high school science laboratories.

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