OER World Map

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The Practical Sandpit


Aim of the project: To examine and develop means by which virtual laboratory resources can be rapidly created by HE practitioners, permitting such resources to be truly open.


This Fellowship project evolved out of a need to enable academic creativity in practical learning. This need requires that the tools utilized to create the resource or resources are accessible, work across different platforms, and are easy to learn. This project therefore undertook to investigate a range of development platforms for creating interactive learning materials.


The project began with an exploration of development methods. The key requirements were determined to be:

  • accessibility (in terms of end users obtaining and using a development environment)

  • cross platform performance

  • ease of use (i.e. a short learning curve or intuitive use)

This was followed by the development of trial resources using different environments. The environments chosen were Tersus, Scratch, Flash, BoaConstructor, and Eclipse. Personal experience was used to evaluate each of these against the key requirements listed above. The results of this analysis can be viewed in the Fellowship final report at http://www8.open.ac.uk/score/fellows/paul-hatherly. A study of literature and the experiences of others was then conducted. This was followed by a further study of the requirements and limitations for different classes of platforms (e.g. a normal computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc).


  • Creation of prototype online components and experiments, and their testing with Lila and JORUM.

  • Evaluation of the JORUM repository and initial testing of the LiLa (Library of Laboratories) portal with a view to these repositories being suitable locations for sharing of content.

  • Establishment of collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire (in parallel with a STEM funded project), promoting and developing effective virtual laboratory resources.

  • Reports to SCORE outlining progress, developments and conclusions

    Outcomes and conclusions

    The need to ensure a shallow learning-curve for the end user while simultaneously having a minimalistic supporting structure is time consuming but necessary to ensuring take-up of the opportunities offered by virtual laboratories. The research undertaken as part of this project is now being used to develop production strategies for online experiments within the OU’s Science faculty. There are also ongoing discussions on the benefits and practicalities of implementing virtual laboratories for course modules.

    Activities in this project assisted in identifying and beginning to devise solutions for overcoming issues related to the implementation of virtual laboratories. They have supported parallel work on an OU level 2 practical science module, thereby providing opportunities of an ambassadorial nature in promoting open education practices to colleagues.

    Further work on this Fellowship is intended with additional funding support from other sources.

    More information on this project can be found at http://www8.open.ac.uk/score/fellows/paul-hatherly

Case study by Paul Hatherly, published online at https://web.archive.org/web/20130707042113/http://www.open.ac.uk/score/practical-sandpit under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Paul Hatherly, The Practical Sandpit, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.