Design and implementation of remotely controlled laboratory experiments
Hyder, Andrew Charles
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Laboratory experimentation plays a critical role in the education of engineers. With the increase of students choosing to obtain their education online through Distance Learning programs, something must be done to allow them to gain practice with experimental techniques. Remote Laboratories (RLs), or laboratory experiments specially constructed for remote use, have the potential to fill this void. In a "traditional" laboratory experiment, students physically interact with an apparatus to obtain experimental data. Remote Laboratories are meant to offer a similar learning experience that is equivalent to, or as close as possible to the physical one, by allowing a user to control the apparatus from a remote location using mechatronic control hardware, integrated with data acquisition software. Studies have shown there is no significant difference with regard to meeting educational outcomes between students who performed an experiment remotely versus those who carried out the same experiment in-person. The focus of this thesis is on the development of a framework for developing and implementing Remote Laboratories. To do this, this research introduces advances in the following areas: a) Identifying the educational differences between traditional and Remote Laboratories. b) Developing a method for comparing student perceptions about RLs and their laboratory reports through surveys and laboratory report grading. c) Creating a standard Information Technology protocol for hosting and conducting remote experiments. d) Investigating alternative uses for RLs. e) Proposing new methods to best mimic the physical interactions of traditional laboratories. f) Creation of functioning Remote Laboratories. g) Analyzing the findings of their use in a classroom setting. A comparison of surveys and laboratory reports between groups that conducted remote experiments and those which conducted traditional experiments over a period of 4 semesters suggest that RLs have the potential to be used to achieve the same educational outcomes as traditional laboratories.