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Invited Paper - The iLab-Europe Initiative: Exploiting Possibilities Created by a Network of Shared Online Laboratories

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2013 ASEE International Forum


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 22, 2013

Start Date

June 22, 2013

End Date

June 22, 2013

Conference Session

Track 2 - Session I - Curriculum Development

Tagged Topic

Invited - Curriculum Development

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Page Numbers

21.49.1 - 21.49.5

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Paper Authors


Danilo Garbi Zutin P.E. Carinthia University of Applied Sciences

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Danilo Garbi Zutin has graduated in electrical engineering at the State University of Sao Paulo (UNESP, Brazil, and obtained his Master degree in Systems Design (specialization in Remote Systems) at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Villach, Austria. His research interests are in the field of remote engineering, online labs, remote control of devices and software development for online labs. Danilo Garbi Zutin is currently a senior Researcher and team member of the Center of Competence in Online Laboratories and Open Learning (CCOL) at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences (CUAS), Villach, Austria, where he has been engaged in projects for the development of online laboratories.
In January 2010 Danilo Garbi Zutin was appointed Secretary General of the International Association of Online Engineering. Danilo is author or co-author of more than 20 scientific papers published in international journals, magazines and conferences. Most of these papers are in the field of online laboratories and issues associated with their dissemination and usage.

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Paper ID #8379Invited Paper - The iLab-Europe Initiative: Exploiting Possibilities Createdby a Network of Shared Online LaboratoriesMr. Danilo Garbi Zutin P.E., Carinthia University of Applied Sciences c American Society for Engineering Education, 2013The iLab-Europe Initiative: Exploiting possibilities created by a network ofshared online laboratoriesIntroductionThe availability of high bandwidth internet connections world-wide and other derivativecapabilities in the areas of real-time communication, control, teleconferencing, videostreaming and others have made multi-site collaborative work, utilizing state-of-the artequipment in remote laboratories across the globe a current reality.Active learning or working by means of online laboratories is especially valuable for distanceworking and education. Users in the workplace can access remote laboratories without havingto travel. This flexibility is important for teleworking, education and lifelong learning.However, the implementation and maintenance of online labs is expensive and partiallyassociated with high administrative efforts. These are reasons, why sharing online labresources via different universities worldwide is a current necessity and can offer severaladvantages, such as providing access to potential expensive laboratory hardware to studentsfrom universities with scarce financial resources by means of a cooperative network of remotesystems. Furthermore, online controlled systems can be very useful when applied to situationsinvolving the often substantial costs of transporting people or equipment. Different institutesand schools could share experiments and knowledge in a collaborative manner that parallelsreal-life working conditions. Importantly, online labs can be also used in workplace settingswhere there is a pressing need to apply these systems to continually provide learningopportunities for workers who must adapt to rapidly changing conditions.Online laboratories is a subfield of the interdisciplinary field of Online Engineering. Onlinecan be defined as an i utilizing the areas of engineering, computing and telematics, wherespecific engineering activities like programming, design, control, observation, measuring,sensing, and maintenance are provided to both remote and local users in a live interactivesetting over a distributed, physically-dispersed network.Learning situations in laboratories can be highly complex, although they have the advantageof usually being well structured. How the particular experiments and learning strategies ofspecific practices provided in laboratories must be tailored to the knowledge students possessin the theoretical realm and in function of the abilities and competences that are explicitlystated in educational objectives of each individual practice. Although self-directed learning isthe most common learning strategy used, a mix of self-directed and collaborative learning isalso very common. It is important to mention that this mix in learning strategies is importantas it favors both field independent and field dependent learning styles respectively.The iLab-Europe InitiativeThe iLab Europe started as an initiative of several partners who agreed to share their onlineexperiments within this network. It is, in this context, a step towards a broader usage anddissemination of online laboratories and helped to raise the issues that must be addressed forthe implementation of a more efficient model to govern the practice of sharing labs in a crossinstitution basis.The software architecture used to maintain the lab sessions as well as scheduling service andexperiment data storage is the iLab Shared Architecture (ISA) described in the previoussection. ISA has an important characteristic namely its distributed topology what made it theideal solution for the implementation.ISA has already built in mechanisms that allow to setup trusted connections between itsautonomous network nodes (service brokers) so that online laboratories can be seamlesslyshared between them. This means that the institutions are free to manage their own onlinelaboratories and their own user accounts and deliver these labs via their own server. In thisway, access for their users to their own labs does not depend on the status of other servicebroker. In the other hand in order to be able to use labs from other universities a user has toauthenticate himself in the main service broker as depicted in Figure 2. Each institutionmember of the network is expected to setup one service broker and deliver at least oneexperiment via this server. This means that from a pool of labs available at one institution it isup to them to decide which labs will be available to the other members of the network. Figure 01. The iLab Shared ArchitectureSharing Online LaboratoriesIn spite of all the efforts and the technology available, the idea of sharing remote or onlinelaboratories has still to mature. If in one hand it is very appealing, on the other it might becomplicated to setup all the policies to share online resources.These constraints are not related to the technical aspects associated to the practice of sharinglabs. There are well known RLMS (Remote Laboratories Management Systems) that providemechanisms and services for lab session scheduling, user management and data storagetargeted specifically in online laboratories.In fact, most of the constraints lie in the lack of an economy of online laboratories and abusiness model to govern the practice of a cross institution sharing of labs consideringimplementation and equipment maintenance costs.Some of these RLMS are: Weblab Deusto, Labshare Sahara, Lila and iLab SharedArchitecture.As the iLab Shared Architecture (ISA) is the software framework chosen to be implementedfor the iLab Europe network we will focus on this architecture.ISA is a software architecture developed at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)that facilitates a cross institution sharing and management of online labs. ISA provides aframework for the maintenance of a lab session, lab users management and experiment datastorage. It establishes clear rules governing the communication between clients and theirrespective online lab servers by means of an API (Application programming Interface) basedon Web services SOAP calls.ISA proposes a classification for online experiments. On one side there are the batchedexperiments and on the other the interactive experiments. Batched experiments are those inwhich all parameters necessary to run it are specified before execution. On interactiveexperiments, the course of the execution can be changed at any time by the user.In this architecture the communication between clients and laboratory is mediated by amiddleware server (Service Broker), a Web application that manages users’ accounts, datastorage and can provide different clients with access to several different lab servers in a“many to several” mode and delegates to experiment server only the experiment execution.The interface that provides the communication between clients with service broker andservice broker with lab servers is implemented with Web services, and is therefore platformindependent. That means that clients and lab servers can be developed in any platformsupporting Web services.Related Efforts to promote sharing of online laboratories and other resourcesThe Global Online Laboratory Consortium (GOLC) is an initiative from several universitiesin USA, Europe, Africa and Australia. Its aims are promoting the development and sharing of,and research into remotely accessible laboratories for educational use.GOLC's activities are based in two main pillars: the development of an interoperability APIthat allows different RLMS to communicate and possibly share experiments in a seamlessway and the development of a standard description language for online laboratories andrelated resources.The the motivation behind the initiative to create a common metadata schema is due to thefact that currently, available online laboratories are often hidden from the public. The mostsignificant reason for this problem is the current lack of information about online laboratoriesthat provide potentially interested parties the ability to search for adequate laboratories. Thisproblem affects nearly any role in the online lab community such as students, administratorsas well as professors even if this influence them in a different manner. The fundament of thisproblem is the lack of information which describes the resources. This is not a specificproblem of online laboratories but rather a general problem of the current Web and concernsmany content types of special interested communities.The ultimate aims of this description language are: • to allow systems (RLMS, Lab repositories, etc) to share these information • provide mechanisms for discovery of labs • structure data in laboratories and RLMs databases • provide requirements for plugging/sharing labs with third party systems (e.g. Go-Lab Portal) and for the execution of labs • and allows advanced search mechanisms • support dissemination of labsGOLC defines an ontology and specify a metadata set for annotating the different resources.The metadata set is intended to cover a broad range of the online laboratories domain, but thesystems making use of it might be interested in a smaller subset only and that should typicallybe the case. The GOLC metadata set defines profiles or subsets of metadata covering differentapplication fields.The online lab ontology is organized in classes and RDF (Resource Description Framework)is used as the standard to define the expressions between different resources as a so calledRDF triple. However, the concept of a class is not defined by RDF.The online lab ontology defined is based also on existing standards like DC terms, FOAF andLOM. GOLC ontology defines the OLM (Online Lab Metadata) namespace and a set ofclasses and properties defined inside this namespace.Conclusion In traditional laboratories most of the equipment is not efficiently used because of the factthat the labs are used for other experiments or very specific equipment are only used for a veryshort time period of the year. Online laboratories are a suitable instrument to solve theseproblems by sharing the labs. Since some years a number of different initiatives to share labsand related technologies that allow this practice have emerged.Beyond the technical aspects, sharing experiments can offer several advantages, such asproviding access to potential expensive laboratory hardware to students from universities withscarce financial resources by means of a cooperative network of remote systems.Furthermore, online controlled systems can be very useful when applied to situationsinvolving the often substantial costs of transporting people or equipment. Different institutesand schools could share experiments and knowledge in a collaborative manner that parallelsreal-life working conditions. Importantly, online labs can be also used in workplace settingswhere there is a pressing need to apply these systems to continually provide learningopportunities for workers who must adapt to rapidly changing conditions.REFERENCES [1] M. E. Auer, A. Pester and D.G Zutin, Open Source Portal for Online Laboratories, 2007. [2], last visited 25.05.2009 [3] Resource Description Framework. URL: – Last visited in 03/2009. [4] D. Allemang ,J. Hendler, Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist: Effective Modeling in RDFS and OWL, Elsevier, 2008. [5] Dublin Core. URL: [6] Draft Standard for Learning Object Metadata, IEEE-publication 2002 - URL: [7] SKOS – Simple knowledge Organization System. URL: [8] vCard. URL: [9] Protégé – an ontology editor and knowledge-base framework URL: [10] World Geodetic System. URL: [11], last visited 03.04.2009 [12], last visited 25.05.2009 [13] 1. Norbert Pachler, Christoph Pimmer, Judith Seipold (Editors). (2011). Work-Based Mobile Learning – Concepts and Cases. Peter Lang AG. [14] Harward, V. J., et Al. 2004. iLab: A Scalable Architecture for Sharing Online Experiments, International Conference on Engineering Education, October 16 – 21, 2004, Gainesville, Florida, USA. [15] Sam Lee and Mayur R. Mehta, “Establishing a Remote Lab for Teaching Enterprise Application Development”, Information Systems Education Journal, Vol. 4, No. 50, pp 1-7, August 8, 2006 [16] Auer, M. E., Pester, A. 2007. Toolkit for Distributed Online-Lab Grids. In: Advances on remote laboratories and e-learning experiences, 2007, University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain. [17] V. J. Harward, J. A. del Alamo, S. R. Lerman P. H. Bailey, J. Carpenter, et. al., "The iLab Shared Architecture: A Web Services Infrastructure to Build Communities of Internet Accessible Laboratories," Proceedings of the IEEE , vol.96, no.6, pp.931-950, June 2008. [18] Felknor, C., DeLong, K. 2006. iLabs Service Broker Complete Machine Build, 2006, MIT iCampus, Cambridge MA, USA.

Garbi Zutin, D. (2013, June), Invited Paper - The iLab-Europe Initiative: Exploiting Possibilities Created by a Network of Shared Online Laboratories Paper presented at 2013 ASEE International Forum, Atlanta, Georgia.

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