F10-DISC1-1 - The remote laboratory VISIR – Introducing online laboratory equipment in electrical engineering classes

1. Innovative Practice Full Paper
Dominik May1 , Brett Reeves1, Mark Trudgen1, Adel Alweshah1
1 University of Georgia, College of Engineering

This innovative practice full paper is displaying research results on implementing a ready-to-use remote lab in the area of electronics called VISIR (Virtual Instrument Systems In Reality) in several electrical engineering classes at the [university] over three consecutive semesters.

Even though remote laboratories have been around in engineering education for several years now, such technologies are not yet widely used. Considering that remote labs can solve location, time and capacity constraints in laboratory education, VISIR represents both an economical and a pedagogic solution. The introduced VISIR equipment has been developed several years ago and it has been used by several universities around the globe. Over the last 1.5 years, it has been implemented and evaluated at the [university].

The VISIR workbench is equipped with a virtual interface enabling students to recognize the benchtop instruments including a breadboard which can be used on the student’s computer screen. The equipment intends to reproduce tactile learning by emulating required operating functions, such as grabbing components and rotating instrument knobs. Hence, in VISIR it has been replaced by telemanipulators, i.e. a switching relay matrix, which the student can control by wiring on a virtual breadboard. Once the user made all wiring, chose the experimental settings, and sends this set-up to the workbench, the desired circuit is created, the experiment is performed in fractions of a second, and, finally, the experiment's result is returned to the user. This allows many users to experiment simultaneously and, hence, VISIR can be used as equivalent to a laboratory equipped with many traditional workbenches.

At [university] VISIR has been introduced to five sections of two different courses, which all use VISIR in conjunction with existing physical hardware, over three consecutive semesters so far. These courses are “Electrical Circuits” (four times) and “Introduction to Electrical Engineering” (one time). The introduction of VISIR opened up the opportunity to the students to (1) independently prepare themselves before class with the help of the remote equipment, (2) actually do the in-class experiment online instead of hands-on, and finally (3) recap concepts learned in class by autonomously performing additional experiments. Research data has been collected over three semesters, using quantitative and qualitative evaluation methods, such as online surveys and focus interviews with lecturers and students after the course.

This paper will discuss existing research contexts and results concerning VISIR in general and the VISIR integration at [university] in particular. Furthermore, the students’ (and lecturer) feedback and educational research results from the last three semesters will be displayed. Furthermore, organizational experiences with regard to the technical and organizational introduction process itself will be in focus. The paper will also discuss the opportunities and challenges of such solutions. Using remote labs does mean to cut off parts of reality and context during the experimental procedure. The question is if and to what extent this is beneficial or not for the learning experience, e.g. by looking at immersion, learning success, and students’ engagement.