June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Engineering Physics & Physics
12.1284.1 - 12.1284.7
SoftLab Virtual Laboratory Environment Thermodynamics Examples
An outstanding way for students to learn scientific and engineering subjects and to experience the joy of discovery is through hands-on laboratory experience including self- directed creative experimentation. Creating such an environment is impractical for most educational institutions. Virtual laboratories, while lacking some of the benefits of real ones, offer advantages of their own. These include, among others, low cost and ready availability. Such a laboratory, called SoftLab, is described here as implemented for introductory thermodynamics.
Educators generally recognize that students learn better by hands-on self-discovery than by just being lectured to. Every school in the world at every level of education would like to be able to provide excellent laboratory facilities. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if each student could access these facilities whenever he wanted to so he could do small experiments to clarify ideas from class and textbooks or for pursuing his own ideas? Several years ago G.R. was able to interview all forty of the Stevens Scholars, freshmen students believed to be especially highly qualified for a technical education. One thing each one of them wanted was just this kind of laboratory opportunity.
A number of factors render this impractical for widespread use, including among other things, cost of equipment, space required, safety considerations, and need to provide access to the laboratory for many hours each day. Even further from realization would be to make such facilities available to each individual student to use when and where he or she chooses. A highly flexible, virtual, computer based laboratory can obviate these problems and provide an excellent learning environment. Virtual lacks much of the impact of real, but can provide unique advantages, such as availability on demand, and insignificant cost.
SoftLab is such a flexible laboratory environment. Its goal is to simulate a laboratory space having a well-equipped storeroom of instruments and a variety of materials. Using SoftLab a student may be guided by an instructor to perform an experiment, or the student might also conceive of one on his own. The student may choose a substance to study, take out the instruments he needs, connect them together, make his measurements, and record and plot his results. The computer screen is the laboratory room. The experimental possibilities open to the student certainly are limited by the ability of the developers to maximize flexibility in a practicable way. Algorithms implemented so far have achieved the desired flexibility, and SoftLab has been well received.
The implementation of SoftLab was begun first for introductory thermodynamics, a one semester course one of the authors taught for many years to all sophomore engineering students, about 250 per year. SoftLab presently has the virtual instruments for broadly studying the first law of thermodynamics in real water and in ideal gases in closed systems and for exploring the
Rothberg, G., & Boytchev, P. (2007, June), Softlab Virtual Laboratory Environment. Thermodynamics Examples Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2540
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