Build a lab and they will come - and stand in line. Put the lab online and students can carry out experiments anywhere. That's the premise behind Virginia Tech's "Lab-in-a-box".
The virtual lab solves some of the thorniest problems in engineering
education. Space constraints are a big issue, and who can afford to
build and outfit new laboratories? Our kit represents the major
measuring equipment and tools that once were restricted to lab benches
costing upwards of $10,000 for a two-person bench.
For a very
modest investment, community colleges can incorporate hands-on
experience in their curricula; that’s critical for students hoping to
transfer to full-time programs. Distance and online learning is a
big push for many community colleges.
From a professor’s point
of view, the virtual lab is a godsend. PhDs don’t come in knowing how to
teach. New professors often struggle with how to teach and develop
their own classroom “script.” Lab-in-a-box gives them a jump start,
since it comes with a curriculum and lab manual that’s been revised over
the last few years. Harried young professors don’t have to reinvent the
When I pose questions such as, “What happens to the
current flowing in this direction as you increase the resistance?” I
want my students to understand intuitively what’s happening in the
circuit. With tools like Lab-in-a-box, they’re learning to think more,
and that’s essential. Engineering has to be more than theory and
It’s been said by many in our field that it’s easier
to move mountains than modify an engineering curriculum. We’re slowly
blasting through the boulders. Hands-on learning is the best way to keep
all engineering students engaged.
--Kathleen Meehan is
associate professor of electrical and computer Engineering at Virginia
Tech. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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