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The Rotameter Experiment: A Comparison Of Web Based And Wet Laboratory Learning Environments

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.644.1 - 5.644.15

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Paper Authors

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William Dalzell

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Rae Jean N. Wiggins

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Nishikant Sonwalkar

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Michael C. Kutney

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Clark K. Colton

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Bonnie Burrell

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Session #

A Comparison of Web-Based and Laboratory Learning Environments

Bonnie Burrell1, Rae Jean N. Wiggins2, Nishikant Sonwalkar2, Michael C. Kutney1, William Dalzell1, and Clark K. Colton1 1 Dept of Chemical Engineering/2Hypermedia Teaching Facility Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I. Introduction

A Web-based computer simulation of an actual laboratory experiment was developed for the MIT Laboratory classes. This virtual experiment, which we call the Web Lab, was introduced into the "Chemical Engineering Projects Laboratory" in spring 1999 and the “Chemical Engineering Process Laboratory" in fall 1999. Among the goals of these courses are to teach students laboratory, data analysis, and communication skills, including writing individual and collaborative team technical reports, making oral technical presentations, and collaborating in the laboratory in teams of three. The aim of this Web Lab was to provide a common experience early in the term in which students collect and analyze data and prepare a formal technical report with tables and figures. One feature of the virtual experiment was that students controlled the experiment and made actual readings from two graduated scales displayed on the monitor. The data collected reflected experimental errors associated with these readings as well as systematic and random errors built into the simulation software. The motive for using a Web-based environment was the notion that it would provide a means for rapidly and easily collecting data for analysis along with the convenience of running the experiment at any time and with any operating system. During its initial use in the Projects Laboratory course (enrollment of 54 juniors and seniors), the Web Lab was evaluated as a learning tool, and the following conclusions emerged1 :

1. The ability of students to generate a technical report with the Web-based environment was as good as that of students who would use a laboratory setting. 2. When queried as to which environment they preferred, the simulated laboratory (which they all used) or the actual laboratory for the assignment of collecting and analyzing data and writing a short formal technical paper, a majority of the students preferred the use of the simulated environment to the actual laboratory environment. This preference likely results from ease of accessibility and use. 3. Students thought that the Web-based environment was suitable for gathering data and writing a report. 4. Several students expressed an interest in performing the experiment in an actual laboratory (Wet Lab) rather than on the Web because they preferred a real hands on experiment.

A more comprehensive evaluation was carried out in fall 1999 to compare use of the actual laboratory environment, which we call the Wet Lab, with use of the Web-based laboratory environment. The goal was to determine if there were any differences in preferences, performance, and ease of use between students gathering data in the Web Lab and Wet Lab. This paper describes the results from a survey given to the students following their experiences with these laboratories. Also included are statistical analysis, comments from the students, and conclusions from the results.

Dalzell, W., & Wiggins, R. J. N., & Sonwalkar, N., & Kutney, M. C., & Colton, C. K., & Burrell, B. (2000, June), The Rotameter Experiment: A Comparison Of Web Based And Wet Laboratory Learning Environments Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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