There has been an increasing emphasis on enhancing students’ practical experience acquiring from the higher education, focusing not only on the development of academic and intellectual capabilities and subject knowledge, but also on the development of skills to equip students for employability. A practical training system that allows instruments to be monitored and controlled over the Internet leaves plenty of room to be studied. This training system can easily be turned into online experiment that allows students at remote locations to control and obtain real-time measurements or experimental data (Tan & Soh, 2001). Actually, some students like to read books to gain knowledge, while others prefer to understand theories deeper through experiment (Chu, 1999; Whelan, 1997). Both of these knowledge-based and investigative types of learning styles have profound and different effects on the delivery and acceptance of engineering education.
Background: Review Of E-Lab
Many virtual laboratory systems are provided by universities or distance-learning institutes (Tan & Soh, 2001). A Web-based interactive laboratory for basic electronic circuits using simulation was carried out at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (Masson, 1997). The simulation provides a representation of a system or process, and allows the user to manipulate this model by changing parameters and examining the effects of these changes. It offers the advantages of repeated testing of alternatives, accessibility, reduced disruption and risk, preinstallation testing, and increased speed, as well as the obvious benefits of exploration and investigation of problem-solving skills. Another virtual laboratory developed by using a simple matrix assembly Java applet provides an instrument simulator that forms a powerful auxiliary didactic tool to give students a basic idea of the instruments, control, and operation (Cabell, Rencis, & Grandin, 1997).
The advantage of using simulation is reflected by the microprocessor development system in Griffith University (Edwards, 1999). As real standalone microprocessor development system is relatively high capital costs and complex modes of operation, implementation of software simulation means that each student has easy access to their own development system.
Sharing resources is another strong point to control laboratory via the Internet (Henry, 1998). At University of Tennessee, equipment of the chemical department can be shared by other engineering schools after introducing Web-based laboratory. One thousand first-year undergraduate engineering students also experience Web-based oscilloscope experiment at the National University of Singapore (Ko et. al., 2000). This increase of utilization rate of equipment via Internet compared with traditional laboratory has another effect to provide more learning opportunities for students with scheduling conflicts (Henry, 1998).
Key Terms in this Chapter
ELVIS: The National Instruments ELVIS environment consists of the hardware workspace for building circuits and interfacing experiments, and the ELVIS software. The ELVIS software, all created in LabVIEW has two main types: the soft front panel (SFP) instruments and LabVIEW application program interfaces, which are just additional LabVIEW program for custom control and access to the features of the ELVIS benchtop workstation.
LabVIEW: LabVIEW is the graphical development environment for creating flexible and scalable test, measurement, and control applications. With LabVIEW, users can interface with real-world signals, analyze data for meaningful information, and share results and applications.
Distance Learning: Learners receive learning materials through CD-ROM, Internet, or satellite broadcasting. This saves learners’ travelling time and promotes learning at anywhere and any time.
Virtual Lab: An experiment is set up in the remote laboratory for users to access through the Internet at any time and any place. Comparing with traditional laboratory, virtual laboratory is particularly useful when some experiment involves equipment that may cause harmful effects to human beings. Another meaning of virtual lab is to implement the laboratory by means of software simulation.
Data Acquisition (DAQ): Data acquisition is the sampling of the signals and generates data that can be processed by a computer to obtain desired information. The components of data acquisition systems include appropriate sensors that convert any measurement parameter to an electrical signal, which is acquired by data acquisition hardware.
E-Lab: Same as virtual lab but mainly to be delivered through the Web.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL): PBL was first used in the medical faculty to help medical students learn through real-life cases. This method emphasizes the learning process in which students actively engage in collecting information and working through a problem. Students are not working alone, as they can build their own understanding under the guidance of instructor, but the instructor does not do the building for them.