June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
13.258.1 - 13.258.13
Bridging the Gap between Lab and Lecture Using Computer Simulation
Most engineering technology courses offered today have both lecture and lab components that are taught separately in two different environments. In this setting, students are expected to meet in the lab to perform experimentations and subsequently submit their findings in the form of a lab report. If the lab experiment is not yielding the desired result, the whole experiment may need to be repeated usually under reduced time constraint and stressful conditions. Furthermore, students may not be aware to whether the problem is due to an incorrect design or a defected component. As a result, needless time and efforts could be wasted trying to figure out what is wrong with the circuit. A more serious problem would arise, if the faulty results were to go completely undetected. In this case, students will not only get an unpleasant surprise when confronted but also feel deprived from reaping the benefit of a rewarding experience. However, many of these negative outcomes can be prevented if the lab experiments are analyzed and tested using computer simulation prior to the actual lab implementation.
In this paper, we report our findings from a pilot project using computer simulation as a pre-lab assignment in an engineering technology program. Students in a two sequence electronics course were asked to perform a set of lab experiments using computer simulation software and then compare their results to real lab measurements. The educational merit of this approach is discussed with focus on the successes and lessons learned from the implementation process. Preliminary assessment results including direct and indirect measurements satisfying ABET1 requirements are addressed. Special emphasis on the evaluation system used to test effectiveness in terms of stated objectives and learning outcomes are presented and discussed in this study.
Many studies have been performed to evaluate the merits of using computer simulations as opposed to traditional laboratory2,3,4. Researchers found that the “virtual lab” was as effective as the “real lab” in term of student achievement, that is, no significant difference in test scores between students using computer simulation and those who are using traditional lab equipment. However, combining both practices in a hybrid environment5 can offer clear advantages since students will be able to compare their simulated results with actual experimentations. Therefore, our electronics courses were redesigned to use Multisim in conjunction with traditional lab activities. Multisim6 is a popular simulation program used by many engineering educators for its friendly interactive features. It has virtual instruments resembling actual laboratory environment.
Continuous improvement is an important issue for Engineering Technology programs because it defines the framework for assessment and evaluation, which is required by accrediting agencies. Consequently, an accredited program that accomplishes its mission and successfully achieves its program objectives and outcomes must have multiple levels of continuous improvement whose results are used to constantly update and evaluate the program for sustained improvement and continued success.
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