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The Effects Of Computer Interface On Learning Outcomes In Remote Access Laboratories

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Experiments in Remote-access Laboratories

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1209.1 - 14.1209.15



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Paper Authors

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M. Reza Emami University of Toronto

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Michael G. Helander University of Toronto

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract



Remote access laboratories are increasingly being integrated into undergraduate engineering curricula on a global scale. Despite the vast body of literature dealing with remotely-accessible laboratories, the majority of papers have focused on the technical merits of a particular implementation, rather than on the implications of remote access experimentation on engineering pedagogy. Recently, a few studies have attempted to quantify the effects of the remote access modality on students’ learning outcomes. These initial pedagogical studies have indicated that there is indeed a difference between proximal and remote experimentation in terms of learning outcomes. However, the question still unanswered is if these observed differences are a result of the physical separation between student and hardware, or rather are a result of the computer- mediated interface used to control the remote hardware. This paper discusses the results of a comprehensive study comparing the pedagogical effects of remote vs. proximal experimentation that includes control over the effects of the computer-mediated interface. Two groups of students performed the same experiment proximally and remotely using the same computer interface, and the learning outcomes are examined.

1. Introduction

The computer is ubiquitous across all engineering disciplines, and has had dramatic impact on the nature of the engineering profession. No longer is the computer a mere tool in the engineer’s toolkit, but rather it has become a fundamental component of an engineer’s daily work. More recently, the rapid expansion and maturation of the internet, has resulted in the computer also being adopted as a powerful collaborative medium for global engineering.

The computer and the internet have also been widely adopted in education, increasing both students’ learning efficiency and scope of experience1. Web-based education, labelled as eLearning, has begun to be integrated into most undergraduate engineering programs both heuristically2 and systematically3. However, the instructional laboratory—an essential element of engineering education—has not followed the same trend. Although the computer has significantly changed the nature of the instructional laboratory4, the practical experience students gain through laboratory instruction has remained relatively untouched by the global scale of the internet.

Since the early days of the internet, numerous universities have attempted to introduce web- based remotely-accessible laboratories into the engineering undergraduate curricula, with only limited success. Despite over a decade of research and development, most remotely-accessible laboratories have remained as isolated technical novelties, with most projects being shutdown once their initial funding runs out. This point is reflected in the fact that most works in the literature address only the technical merits and potential benefits of remote access technologies, rather than addressing the impact of remote experimentation on engineering pedagogy. Clearly, a new fundamentally different approach to remotely-accessible laboratories is required.

Emami, M. R., & Helander, M. G. (2009, June), The Effects Of Computer Interface On Learning Outcomes In Remote Access Laboratories Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4579

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