June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
13.1283.1 - 13.1283.19
The Virtual Classroom Environment of a WWW-Based Autonomous Robotics Laboratory: Factors Affecting Student Participation, Communication, and Performance
Virtual classrooms made possible by WWW-based course delivery have the potential to improve student access to scarce resources (faculty expertise, unique laboratory environments) as well as to unite students from geographically-separated backgrounds in shared educational activities. The long reach of WWW-based courses, however, is through a narrow window whose ultimate size may face critical limits (available client or host computing power, network bandwidth, display screen size) that might impair student learning. In order to translate an existing traditional course into a distance-learning version, not only must the key features of “success” (curriculum, course design, classroom environment) for the traditional format be identified, but these features must actually be deliverable intact via the computing and network infrastructure available. Laboratory and group-based practicum courses are particularly sensitive to the communication environment. We report here some of the difficulties we have encountered over several iterations of a WWW-based autonomous robotics laboratory course for engineering undergraduates, as well as during the gradual migration of a two-week summer robotics practicum for secondary-school students and STEM educators from a traditional in-person laboratory to a virtual distance-learning classroom. Both courses have highly successful traditional versions (20 and 5 offerings, respectively) which serve as reference controls. While some identified problems may eventually be overcome by improved delivery technology, there remain fundamental differences between our physical and virtual classrooms that, based on observations of student performance and feedback, may require significant how-to-use-the- interface training and familiarity before attempting to deliver any formal curriculum content. For some students, the effort required in learning to use the virtual classroom and transcend its limitations significantly reduces their participation and performance.
Various institutions are moving to put entire technical curricula online. Project and practica- based courses are integral parts of such curricula and are identified as such both by common assessments of good practice and formal accreditation requirements. Synchronous, lecture-style courses can be translated into online environments with little difficulty. Translating practica courses, in which instruction tends to be more individualized and rich in interpersonal contact, can be somewhat problematic. In this paper, we will report on some of the difficulties we have encountered over several iterations of a WWW-based autonomous robotics laboratory course for engineering undergraduates, as well as during the gradual migration of a two-week summer robotics practicum for secondary-school students and STEM educators from a traditional in- person laboratory to a virtual distance-learning classroom. We will begin with descriptions of the courses and their mechanics. Following, we will provide both quantitative and qualitative comparative data, indications of potential problems, and preliminary suggestions on how to fix them.
Drushel, R., & Gallagher, J. (2008, June), The Virtual Classroom Environment Of A Www Based Autonomous Robotics Laboratory: Factors Affecting Student Participation, Communication, And Performance Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/3923
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