Online: Trending Now

Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

Virtual Laboratories: Convergence of Learning and Career Practice

In the months of COVID-19 isolation, the gulf between college science labs and professional labs has narrowed; they both are converging in online practice.

Academic virtual science labs have improved year by year as more and more learners seek to advance their education and careers through online learning. At the same time, professional laboratories have increasingly utilized robotics, distant sensors and associated technologies to make the labs more versatile, efficient, accurate and operable at a distance. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) is overhauling laboratories to provide remote (distant) control and monitoring.

IoT continues to advance month by month in linking literally billions of devices to the network. As a matter of common practice, new models of all types of equipment in all fields are internet connection-enabled. This has led to a new term — “Industrial Internet of Things.” The U.K. editor in chief of ZD Net and Tech Republic, Steve Ranger, writes, “The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 are all names given to the use of IoT technology in a business setting. The concept is the same as for the consumer IoT devices in the home, but in this case the aim is to use a combination of sensors, wireless networks, big data, AI and analytics to measure and optimise industrial processes.”

The current pandemic has put increased pressure on both the professional practitioners and professors to implement new technologies to operate laboratories at a distance wherever possible. Many of these technologies were developed prior to the current pandemic. For example, pharmaceutical laboratory Pranatharthiharan moved a couple of years ago to enable remote lab controls:

In addition to collecting data about equipment performance and laboratory conditions, scientists such as Pranatharthiharan can use the IoT to deposit vast amounts of experimental data into the cloud directly from instruments and to control experiments remotely. “It’s very clear that research in laboratories — particularly in biology and biomedicine — is becoming fully intertwined with online technologies,” says Sabina Leonelli, a philosopher who studies data and life science at the University of Exeter in the U.K.

Chemical engineer and biotechnologistArthur Trapotsis of Consolidated Sterilizer Systems has adapted the IoT and IIoT terms to apply specifically to laboratories: “The Internet of Things in laboratories, or as I like to call it, the Internet of Labs (IoL), is about to take off — and in a short time all laboratory equipment will be connected to the cloud. This type of ‘smart’ equipment will enable researchers to be more productive by allowing them to remotely perform experiments, run processes, monitor tests, collect data and more.”

Clearly, as we move forward, graduates will be working in smart laboratories. No longer will they use the manual tools and techniques of prior centuries seen in the classic college laboratory. Instead, they will begin their careers by using computer-controlled, precise, monitored and remotely controlled robotics to perform laboratory work utilizing the Internet of Labs described above. Remote control — even working from home — will become normalized. John Joyce writes in Laboratory Manager, “Ready or not, you need to be planning how to deal with the internet of things (IoT); simply ignoring it is not an option. You may be able to delay its infiltration of your lab, but that will rapidly become an unfeasible option as more manufacturers incorporate the IoT into their instruments.”

The Internet of Things is rapidly expanding to serve laboratories, both professional and academic. In a unique collaboration, MIT has joined Biogen to demonstrate web-based, remote lab tools.

Michael Cima, Lemelson-MIT Program faculty director and associate dean of innovation for MIT’s School of Engineering, says, “We also know that hands-on doesn’t have to mean in-person, and mentoring can happen effectively using web-based collaboration tools. We are excited to join forces with Biogen and their unique expertise, combined with ours, to help another generation of students discover their passion for invention in biotechnology and neuroscience.”

Al Sandrock, executive vice president, research and development, Biogen, says, “While we have always believed that science can be done anywhere, the current public health crisis has pushed us all to consider new ways of learning and to think differently about how we collaborate with others. Lemelson-MIT is allowing us to enrich our program so we can continue to foster an appreciation for science, and reinforce the point that science is accessible, even if you’re not physically in a lab.”

Science education company Labster and Google have joined forces to support an online biology degree using virtual reality labs. And, just as the pandemic emerged, edX launched a free online platform to support the laboratory sciences through interactive simulations and more.

In the coming year or two, as we return to the “new normal” of post-pandemic, we will see the Industrial Internet of Things and the Internet of Laboratories merge in the corporate and research worlds. Are we preparing our STEM students to thrive in the new environment? Are we adapting our laboratories to the emerging IIoT and IoL? Who is leading the initiative to bring the labs on your campus up to speed?

This article was originally published in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching & Learning.

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

Other UPCEA Updates + Blogs

People & Programs: New Online Graduate Certificate Programs Create ‘Stackable’ Pathway to University of Texas at Austin Master’s Degree

The Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has launched a new program allowing learners to pursue career-focused course bundles that can be applied as academic credit toward a graduate degree. Starting with two 100% online graduate certificates — a Mechanical Engineering Controls Certificate and a Petroleum Engineering Data Analytics Certificate —…

Read More

Evolving the College Model to Meet Demands

By SmartBrief Editors This post is produced in partnership with UPCEA. As the Associate Vice Provost for Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Delaware (UD), Dr. George Irvine has spent the last six months transitioning his division’s programs from in-person to wholly online due to the pandemic. He chaired a university-wide committee to…

Read More

UPCEA Supports New Community College Workforce Education Study

UPCEA is excited to be supporting a new study of community college workforce education, funded by Lumina Foundation and spearheaded by Opportunity America. Opportunity America and Lumina Foundation are partnering with Wilder Research to conduct this national study.   What. The study aims to answer the following questions: How extensive is the workforce education offered…

Read More

New to Teaching Online? Avoid Reinventing the Wheel: Interview Results From Experienced Online Instructors

During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote education has become increasingly relevant for large numbers of instructors, students, and higher education professionals. Many have found remote teaching to be daunting, and have wondered how to provide equivalent learning opportunities to students without the face-to-face contact, as well as resources, offered in classroom settings. However, professionals in online…

Read More

Supporting Faculty and Staff in the Development of High Quality Online Experiences: Crowdsourced Resources for the 2020-2021 Academic Year

Earlier this summer, at the suggestion of Aaron Brower and Ryan Anderson of the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus, UPCEA led the crowdsourcing of resources to support higher quality remote teaching for the 2020-2021 academic year. The project was bold, audacious, and one that proved to be challenging for a host of reasons, mainly due…

Read More

The New Adult Learner: Lessons Learned from Reality Television

When reality television exploded into our culture two decades ago, I will admit that I was hooked on Survivor. I enjoyed the principles of competition, teamwork, manipulation and human behavior as they apply in life and in the workplace. It was also about intergenerational and diverse communication in a semi-survival situation (although we know that…

Read More

Whether you need benchmarking studies, or market research for a new program, UPCEA Consulting is the right choice.

We know you. We know the challenges you face and we have the solutions you need. We speak your language and have been serving leaders like you for more than 100 years. UPCEA consultants are current or former continuing and online higher education professionals who are experts in the industry—put our expertise to work for you.


UPCEA is dedicated to advancing quality online learning at the institutional level. UPCEA is uniquely focused on excellence at the highest levels – leadership, administration, strategy – applying a macro lens to the online teaching and learning enterprise. Its engaged members include the stewards of online learning at most of the leading universities in the nation.

We offers a variety of custom research options through a variable pricing model.


Click here to learn more.

The Nation's Top Universities Choose UPCEA Consulting

Informed decisions. Ideas that work. The data you need. Trusted by the top universities in the nation.