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Web experiments

Web experiments are great tools for science teaching – they are practical science procedures controlled at a distance, using a web site. The experimental equipment can be located in university, science museum or other location. By using web experiments, pupils can take part in experiments not permitted in school and apply database techniques for analysing and storing results of an experiment, while teachers and technicians are supported by external staff.

Examples of web experiments

What are web experiments?

Web experiments are real experiments. The only difference is that it is operated from your desktop while the experimental apparatus is at a remote location. In addition, they are:

• Located in real places and sometimes can be visited by the public. Normally a webcam gives you a view of the setup. Sometimes, you can chat online with an observer present at the location.

• Connected to a database. This means that the results of your experiment are not lost, but saved for future use by you and others. Over time, as many schools repeat the experiment, a statistically significant number of data points will be accrued, allowing you to see the validity of the result and the influence of random.

• Maintained by professionals and therefore run with high availability and reliability.

• Bringing the concept of remote-controlled laboratories from today's large multinational research institutions into school laboratories.

Web experiment apparatus can be located in science museums or in schools. In science museums, the public can easily access the set-up and discuss with the technician in charge of the apparatus. The maintenance crew is also usually trained in the relevant safety issues. Some web experiments are relatively easy to implement and can be run from within a school.

Running an in-school web experiment can raise the motivation of pupils to start a scientific career, because the maintenance of the experimental set-up requires students together with their teachers to be maintainers of the set-up. This however limits the range of web experiments due to safety constraints. Another problem for set-up in schools might be the reliability of the set-up, as ensuring high reliability again puts additional load on the supervising teachers or technicians.

What are the benefits of web experiments?

Millikan's idea of a elementary charge is easily seen by many single experiments sketched in a scatter plot, while a single experiment cannot even give a glimpse of the idea.

Web experiments have a great deal of advantages, as they:

• Enable teachers to do an experiment in class which is too expensive, dangerous or complex for a normal school laboratory.

• Enable a teacher to prepare laboratory sessions that can be carried out by students independently, for instance as homework. Every pupil gets the mission to apply a predefined set of parameters to the experiment. The results go into the database and are a topic for a common analysis in the classroom.

• Enable teachers to achieve a better level of scientific quality from the combination of the experiment and the database. Databases with many data sets from multiple pupils reach statistical significance, and thus one can draw valid conclusions from the distribution of data. Examples of such experimental analyses e.g. in physics, the Hertzsprung-Russel diagram or the Millikan charge distribution diagram. A Millikan experiment, for example, without the statistics of many data will not allow a student to follow the reasoning of Millikan from the results.

• Allow direct comparison of results with that of other users. The statistics of all results enables you to weigh a bad result in an appropriate way. Hence there is more value for a bad result than just “bad”.

• Do not require experimental set-up time for a teacher and technician(s).

Karl Sarnow

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