With the increasing demand for distance learning opportunities in the higher education sector, there is an ever-growing need for the design and deployment of remote laboratories, especially for engineering, science, and technology curricula. In order to accommodate the offering of entire degrees for distance learning students whose curricula require remote laboratories, scalable information technology infrastructures that support the large scale use and deployment of these remote laboratories must exist. This chapter provides a discussion of architectures and design methodologies using technology such as command and control communications, Web 2.0, and cloud computing, which provide a scalable, manageable, and sustainable technological infrastructure-basis for large scale remote laboratory deployment.
The last decade has given rise to many advances in Internet-enabled technology, and as a result of the “ubiquitous” Internet, the education sector has seen significant growth in the area of distributed education and distance learning. This growth is a result of institutions offering online coursework and providing remote campuses. Even though many universities are offering online coursework and distance learning, with approximately eighty-five percent of US universities considering distance learning and online coursework as vital components of their educational strategies (Kirkland, 2008), there is a significant challenge faced when offering distance learning coursework in the engineering, science, and technology sector. This challenge is the ability to offer coursework that requires laboratory instruction. As a result of this challenge, much research in the area of remote laboratories (RL) is being conducted. We define RL as the following: a remote lab, in general, includes an apparatus that is operated through a computer, possibly interfaced with audio and video equipment for real-time feedback to the remote user, and is controllable from a remote location via computer networks. Further, a remote lab incorporates laboratory units (the apparatus) that can, in certain cases, be moved, seamlessly, between different locations and computer networks. The apparatus in RL is any networked device that implements a remote lab environment. For the rest of this chapter, we will refer to the apparatus as a remote laboratory component (RLC).
One can enumerate several reasons for deploying distance learning curricula and associated remote laboratories, such as:
Universities can reach out to students who, without distance learning technology, would otherwise not be able to obtain higher education and advanced degrees.
Students can experiment with different configuration settings, get results very quickly, and hence are encouraged to do more “what if” exploring than they would do in a traditional laboratory.
Students have the flexibility to log in, conduct an experiment and complete associated assignments from any place in the world and at any time they choose.
Remote laboratories provide broader access to expensive and/or specialized equipment and thus foster the concept of “magnet schools”.
Remote laboratories help prepare students for the workplace of tomorrow, in which remote work and mass collaboration (Rippel, 2009) will be the norm.
This chapter provides discussion on the idea of remote laboratory infrastructures. The next section provides background material and discussion on previous work in the design of remote laboratories. Then, the chapter provides a discussion of requirements and characteristics of remote laboratory infrastructures; it introduces a systems model that provides a guiding framework for future developments of remote lab infrastructure, and the details the operation of a remote lab infrastructure using a case study narration. The chapter then closes with discussion of future trends and conclusions.