Implementation of Remote Laboratories for Industrial Education

Implementation of Remote Laboratories for Industrial Education

Andreja Rojko (University of Maribor, Slovenia), Thomas Zürcher (Biel Academy of Applied Science, Switzerland), Darko Hercog (University of Maribor, Slovenia) and Renato Stebler (Biel Academy of Applied Science, Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-186-3.ch005
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Rapidly changing economics and fast progress in technology require from engineers employed in industry that they constantly refresh and update their professional knowledge. Remote laboratories with learning management systems are very suitable for such industrial education, although they are very rarely used in practice. In this contribution, two solutions for industrial education are presented and evaluated. The first solution is from the University of Maribor, Slovenia. Two different learning platforms with integrated remote laboratories offer courses in basic mechatronics. Courses are applied towards the training of professionals from Slovenian and Austrian industry. The second solution is from the Biel Academy of Applied Science, Switzerland. It is based on the Moodle learning management system and upgraded by the virtual classroom and remote laboratory. Specialized courses that offer a qualification for work with Programmable Logic Controllers are successfully applied in the training of specialists, employed by Siemens, Switzerland. Based on the encouraging results and observed needs of the training participants, a possible future development of remote laboratories and distance learning for industrial education and other potential industrial applications are discussed.
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Remote laboratories, in engineering education, are nowadays a well-established technology that is used in many universities. A remarkable variety of technical solutions to establish remote laboratories and a number of suitable educational approaches have been developed. Overviews of some solutions can be found in the recently published surveys (Gomes & Bogosyan, 2009; Hanson, et al., 2009). A good overview of the solutions is also presented in a book (Tzafestas, 2009). Some remote laboratories are used in regular education to completely replace laboratory exercises in order to reduce the costs of necessary equipment or to ease the burden of organization of laboratory exercises (Hassan, Dominguez, Martinez, Perles, & Albaladejo, 2007; Lopez, Cedazo, Sanchez, & Sebastian, 2009). Also, it is common to combine the local and remote exercises. (Ferrater-Simon, et al., 2009; Gustavsson, et al., 2009; Marques, Rocha, Rafael, & Martins, 2008). Most of those remote laboratories offer only remote experiments. However, although they can significantly contribute to the quality of the education process, their usage is limited to courses where the theoretical part of the training is provided in some other form, mostly by traditional lectures.

Lately, there is a tendency towards an integration of remote laboratories and the Learning Management System (LMS). LMS is a software application for creation, management, and tracking of online interactive training courses and learning programs. Important properties of robust LMSs are summarized in (Ellis, 2009). LMSs include the teaching materials for self-learning and other functionalities, which are necessary for the execution of complete distance courses. Such laboratories, with LMS, can make good use of all advantages of e-learning without omitting the acquisition of practical skills (Aydogmus & Aydogmus, 2009; Bauer, Dudak, Maga, & Hajek, 2007; Bellmunt, Miracle, Arellano, Sumper, & Andreu, 2006; Cmuk, Mutapcic, & Bilic, 2009; Maiti, 2010).

With the development of remote laboratories, it becomes important to assess whether the remote experiments can substitute for hands-on experience. A number of attempts have been made in order to evaluate the difference between remote and hands-on experiments from many viewpoints, such as acceptance, usability, learning outcomes and the learners’ attitude. Most of the studies show a very positive attitude from learners and no significant difference in learning outcomes when a remote instead of a hands-on version is used (Aydogmus & Aydogmus, 2009; Bellmunt, et al., 2006; Cooper & Ferreira, 2009; Hanson, et al., 2009; Jernigan, Fahmy, & Buckner, 2009; Lang, et al., 2007; Pradarelli, Latorre, Flottes, Bertrand, & Nouet, 2009). However, there are also few studies, which show that regular students have, to some degree, a negative attitude toward a complete replacement of hands-on experiments with the remote ones, although they welcome the introduction of remote experiments as an addition to hands-on experiments (Marques, et al., 2008; Rojko, Hercog, & Jezernik, 2010). In general, it may be assumed, that the introduction of remote experiments into regular education fulfils its goals.

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