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A Paradigm Shift in the Way Students Experience Science Labs

iLabs wins award for enhancing “real world” science learning in high schools

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March 21, 2013 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The iLabs Network program developed by Northwestern’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) has received the prestigious 2013 Innovations in Networking Award for Educational Applications.

The award highlights innovations with the potential to revolutionize instruction and research by leveraging ultra-high bandwidth networking. It is given by the Corporation for Educational Network Initiatives in California (CENIC).

CENIC called iLabs “a paradigm shift” in the way students and teachers experience high school science labs. By remotely placing expensive lab equipment in the hands of students, iLabs exposes students to “real world” science environments.

To date, iLabs has provided almost 6,000 high school students and teachers in the Chicago area and around the world with opportunities to design scientific experiments that make use of world-class remote laboratory equipment online that would otherwise never be available to them.

“The iLab Network demonstrates how Internet2 broadband can level the playing field and make world-class STEM education possible for all students, regardless of where they live,” says Kemi Jona, OSEP director and iLabs developer.

For example, iLabs gives students access to a Geiger counter at Australia’s University of Queensland as well as an X-ray diffractometer housed at the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Northwestern University. Each of these instruments would be too dangerous or too expensive for high school students to gain access to in a more traditional hands-on format. 

Because iLabs are available outside regular hours, students are able to carry out their assignments from any location with Internet access. With the ability to link to remote equipment from their home computers, they can rethink and refine the parameters and variables of the experiments they design and run multiple trials of an experiment.

“That’s simply impossible to do in a typical 45-minute school lab session,” says Jona. “iLabs enrich science and engineering education by personalizing the lab experience. They allow teachers to more productively use class time and they increase the scope of experiments that students can conduct.”

The iLab Network Project is supported by the National Science Foundation and a grant from Hewlett-Packard. Part of the School of Education and Social Policy, OSEP connects K-12 students and teachers to the world-class science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) resource of Northwestern University and beyond. 

For more information about iLabs, visit  http://ilabcentral.org. For more on the Office of STEM Education Partnerships, visit http://osep.northwestern.edu.

Topics: University, Research