July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Electrical and Computer
The COVID-19 global pandemic forced universities to suspend face-to-face instructional activities, prompting faculty with the extraordinary challenge of transitioning fully online instruction. While the transition to online instruction is difficult for many instructors in traditional courses, it is a unique challenge for engineering faculty who are also required to deliver alternative laboratory experiences. At the University of Georgia (UGA), 70% of our Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Systems Engineering (CSE) required courses include hands-on laboratory components that are integral to meeting course learning outcomes. Similar to peer institutions, we switched to online instruction which includes the translation of hands-on labs into online lab experiences. Our transition to online lab instruction is informed by past research and has deepened our research understanding and approach. Necessary participation by a wide range of faculty and students may offer clarity on factors for the adoption and success of online labs beyond the current circumstances. In this paper, we explain both our approach to switch to the online mode for lab experiences and preliminary results from course development.
As face-to-face labs are currently prohibited and take-home lab kits do not serve our curricular needs, we implement two different remote lab solutions for electrical engineering students during self-paced online lab sessions. Namely, we introduced the VISIR lab platform and netCIRCUITlabs from EMONA Instruments . Both remote labs offer suitable online lab environments for different educational levels of electrical and computer engineering courses. In our case, the implementation of online laboratory modules involved a combination of circuit simulation exercises and engagement with one of the aforementioned remote lab platforms, e.g. to enable manipulation of circuit elements and typical electrical circuit measurement techniques through a web-based interface. It is important to note that, while the manipulation of circuit elements occurs through a virtual interface, in both labs the users are still manipulating real physical circuit elements.
Based on positive experiences in earlier pilot studies prior to the onset of the current global health crisis, faculty had already decided to incorporate limited use of remote labs in their face-to-face course delivery models. Hence, we were ideally positioned to build on these experiences while transitioning to completely online. The main focus for our work has been the development of a fully online version of our combined lecture/lab course—ECSE 2170 Fundamentals of Circuit Analysis. Skills learned in this course include both analytical (required for the design and evaluation of circuits) and hands-on (building, testing, and debugging circuits). Delivery through the described remote labs is critical for these skills. The course is taught by an instructional team of six faculty members and serves ~350 students annually, including ~75 students during the summer term.
Our initial efforts in using the remote labs during the current crisis have been well received by the students who engaged with the online lab modules. Further, the instructors who developed and deployed these pilot remote lab modules found them to be a useful component of their course instruction. Students and faculty document their appreciation for performing real lab experiments in their courses, even though traditional hands-on facilities are still closed. Early data shows that the integration of online labs has a good chance to persist as part of our curriculum, even after the crisis, very likely in combination with hands-on labs. For example, one could think of using the online labs as preparation for hands-on labs to better understand both theoretical concepts and basic technical procedures and use face-to-face lab time for more complex activities.
Our ongoing research closely examines the socio-technical realities of online experimentation and the rapid switch from face-to-face to online experimentation. The study will explore the impact of online lab adoption on faculty who are faced with the challenge of satisfying lab-based experiential learning outcomes and students who are suddenly asked to engage in lab exercises more independently. With our remote lab initiative at the UGA College of Engineering, and our research efforts, we will broaden knowledge about remote experimentation, especially in electrical and computer engineering. For example, we will perform a targeted concept roll-out to logical extensions from the ECSE 2170 Fundamentals course. Based on research results, our next steps include faculty development to support the integration of online experimentation in other courses. This will be accompanied by a close feedback loop on both the gained knowledge and personal experiences toward bringing lab activities online with the wider UGA College of Engineering faculty.
May, D., & Morkos, B., & Jackson, A., & Beyette, F. R., & Hunsu, N., & Walther, J., & Ingalls, A. (2021, July), Switching from Hands-on Labs to Exclusively Online Experimentation in Electrical and Computer Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37795
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