Virtual Practices, Virtual Laboratories, and Virtual Internship Experience in Engineering Training

Virtual Practices, Virtual Laboratories, and Virtual Internship Experience in Engineering Training

Konstantin Pavlovich Alekseev (National Research Nuclear University, Russia), Gerard L. Hanley (California State University, USA), Nurlan Muratovich Kiyasov (National University of Science and Technology MISiS, Russia) and Valeriy Nikolaevich Platonov (A. M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3395-5.ch033


This chapter considers the current state, types, and relevance of modern virtual laboratories, virtual practices, and training in higher engineering education. The four types of virtual laboratories are considering. This work also offers examples of virtual scientific and engineering processes simulation laboratories and virtual remote laboratories, virtual practices, and internship. It analyzes the experience of universities and companies in the virtual laboratories, virtual practices, and internship. Particularly interesting for online learning platforms are the virtual laboratories of edX and the National Platform for Open Education. Finally, the chapter provides recommendations on the development of shared knowledge centers for collective use of virtual installations and laboratories, on ways of remote participation in collaborative work with real unique installations, and on participation in the distributed research unique installations and data processing tools. The authors also indicate directions of the development of supportive virtual internship programs for students.
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The application of new technologies in education, for some reasons, still causes an alerted concern by the proponents of traditional educational technologies. Among the novel educational technologies are: online learning, adaptive learning with use of Big Data learning analytics, collaborative learning, mobile technologies, and game based learning. The main argument of opponents against mass use of new educational technologies, especially in engineering, is the statement that practical components are omitted from the novel processes of offered training. Also, the lack of practical training seems to hinder the preparation of specialists.

This apparent obstacle has been resolved by the creation of virtual laboratories. These virtual laboratories are able to simulate a complete equipment set and other devices’ process. They also allow the visualization of processes that lay beyond the capabilities of the human eye or/and are hidden inside devices. Students are able to observe the direct connection between device control actions and the processes happening in physical objects, which are often or normally unreachable. The development of visualization graphics, image quality, and o video editing tools allows for a high-quality virtual reality with augmented reality effects.

Indeed, multimedia and augmented reality effects allow to model not only real, but also abstract objects and phenomena of any scale, which are often unavailable to direct observation. Examples are galaxies, nanostructures, and molecules. The field of virtual visualization has become a scientific analysis branch. It has been named scientific visualization, and is widely used in various theoretical and experimental studies. Up to date instruments of creation of computer games let to turn a game space into cognitive task objects (i.e., creative activities objects for students).

Virtual laboratories are exactly the elements that introduce practical components in the training process. The first virtual laboratories appeared nearly two decades ago and implied interaction of students with resources and with other students exclusively through the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICT). However, these instruments have not become common in the online learning process. The reason could be high costs of creation of virtual elements, which constituted a considerable share in online learning design and production.

The analysis of developments of virtual laboratories, practices, and internships in engineering education reveals three principle obstacles in their application. The first obstacle is the absence of a detailed methodological basis for manuals and self-guiding tools for a virtual learning application. The cases in which this problem has been solved obtained a robust educational resource. The second obstacle is the technical complexity of high-quality virtualization tools and their significant costs. This problem can be solved by outsourcing services for the development of commercial educational software. The third obstacle comprises the low level of knowledge of best practices of open information systems, faculty professionals who are insufficiently educated in the virtual laboratories application, poorly developed practices, and lack of internships in engineering education.

The solution of these three problems will definitely expand the application of virtual laboratories and thus will bring the practice component into the learning process.

The following new education technologies are providing the practice skill acquisition which is necessary in the practical works of engineering specialties:

  • 1.

    - Virtual hands-on training and laboratories.

  • 2.

    - Virtual internships and practices.

Generally, the term virtual laboratory is understood either as an education virtual laboratory or as a research virtual laboratory (Balakrishnan, & Woods, 2009; Feisel, & Rosa, 2005; Gertz, Stewart, & Khosla, 1994; Gornev, 1998; Harms, 2000; Trukhin, 2002; Virtual laboratory, 2006).

In any case, a virtual laboratory can be differently defined as in the following.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Center for Career Education of Columbia University (CCE): Department of Columbia University which helps students and alumni develop the key competencies and take the necessary steps to achieve their career goals, pursue their personal and professional objectives. CCE was one of the first-place institutions who that has begun started the virtual program of internship for universities university students from the campus in 2009.

Hybrid Laboratory: Virtual laboratory which consists of both a real laboratory, and elements of laboratory control, communication, simulation, experimental data collection, and analysis.

VSFS: Virtual Student Foreign Service of U.S. State Department provides the virtual internship for U.S. citizen students, harnesses their expertise and digital excellence to move the work of U.S. government forward on multiple fronts.

National Platform for Open Education (NPOE): The educational platform offering online courses in basic undergraduate subjects taught at Russian universities. The platform was created by the Association “National Platform for Open Education,” established by eight leading Russian universities.

Virtual Reality Laboratory: The training and research laboratory based on the simulation and devices of sense perception, including many person sense organs in the control feedback, where the learner becomes a participant of the “practically real” world in the artificial three-dimensional optical environment.

Engineering Training: The broad spectrum of disciplines taught regarding structures, machines, tools, systems, components, materials, processes, solutions, and organizations in applied science, technology and types of engineering application in human and social science.

MERLOT: Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching at AU43: The URL has been redirected to Please verify the URL. is a program of the California State University System partnering with education institutions, professional societies, and industry in online learning resources.

Remote Laboratory: Virtual laboratory which can provide access through the Web browser to the real equipment in a real laboratory. This virtual laboratory allows to send control commands which can be preprocessed in order to do not damage the real expensive equipment, to execute experiments in a real laboratory on the real equipment, and then to collect experimental results.

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