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
Unfortunately, virtual labs don't give "real" hands-on experience when working with electrical circuits. It won't teach you what happens when you short a power supply, exceed the voltage rating of a capacitor or the power rating of a resistor.
Not to extend the list beyond reason, but unless a student has experienced electrical faults, such as a reversed biased electrolytic capacitor, high-voltage damage from ESD, leakage, crosstalk and noise from other logic within a system. A new EE does not get the complete picture that would make him/her a great engineer. The Virtual world is way too sanitized to provide the richness of the REAL world.
I think the title of this piece is misleading, and that therefore the previous two commenters came to the wrong conclusion.
This virtual lab is real. It consists of a kit of actual components, and a physical breadboard. The kit is delivered to the students via snail mail, or perhaps they can physically walk to an engineering building to pick it up.
The online aspects, and I gather the digital voltmeter and oscilloscope, are installed in the students' PCs. And there are also Skype sessions with the profs. However, the lab is a home "kit" of real physical components.
I've believed for some time now that for education to keep its costs reasonable, it will have to exploit digital autmation to the same extent as just about every other part of our economy. Same holds true for medicine. Both fields are still very labor-intensive, and therefore their costs have been increasing way too much. This seems like just the sort of initiative that we need.
I'm glad you cleared the air about tthe virtual lab being real and agree with your points. Perhaps the title could have been amended to "Why engineering students need a remote lab bench." The word "virtual" has its peculiar connotations.
The "Lab-in-a-box" is also being used to teach clinical doctoral-level audiology (Au.D. degree)students at at least one university, at my suggestion to a faculty member.
As it turns out, audiologists need the training, as they deal not only with prosthetics (hearing aids & cochlear implants), but also for electrophysiology -- Primarily auditory brainstem evoked response (ABR & ASSR), but also vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) and electrocochleogram (EcochG) testing.
An useful teaching method.The lab kit needs to have function generator,a multi channel digitizer,to measure current ,volt hertz,ohms,farads,Henry and ohms. A minimum of 4 channels required.Also a wave form monitor PC scope with a bandwidth of 5Mhz and 1 mv resolution.All this can be integrated for about $250 and will be highly useful to the students.
Being late to the table, I agree with Bert and agk...We are fortunate to have about 1.5 million Raspberry Pi's in the hands of hobbyists and students; along with a couple of billions of smart devices; all we need is an open platform with low-cost electronics to accomplish our Portable Experimenter Platform, powered by the Pi. It lets student perform hands-on experimentation such as measuring speed of sound, sonar, and later, measuring speed of light, etc. We have working prototypes and are seeking financial support to evolve it into a powerful lesson delivery system. Please check into WattminderInstruments.com and give us a critique.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.