(247f) Understanding Student Learning in Remote and Hands-On Laboratory Experiences
AIChE Annual Meeting
Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 2:00pm to 2:18pm
Background-------------- Our interest is in understanding student learning and the advantages and disadvantages of remotely-operated laboratory experiences compared to hands-on. Ideally, remote experiments can be conducted at any time from any place. They are particularly useful for students at universities where resources are severely limited and there is no access to any significant experimental equipment. In such contexts, knowing how to optimize learning in a remote lab experiment is critical. And, knowing the limitations compared to hands-on is important. Remote experiments are also a way to introduce a lab-like experience in any university where large enrollments prevent practical access to laboratory equipment. At WPI distillation is taught in the sophomore year throughout a project-based spiral curriculum. All projects are team-based. We introduce basic concepts early in the sophomore year then revisit distillation throughout the year with successively more complex assignments and projects. This includes at least two lab experiences. The first experiment uses a batch column operated at total reflux to introduce students to multistage distillation including efficiency and energy balances at total reflux. A follow-on course explores pressure swing distillation without a lab component. Near the end of the year, the batch column operated at a constant external reflux ratio is used again in a lab project. This project engages students in process dynamics and challenges them to compare differences between theory and reality using the Rayleigh analysis. Large enrollments forced us to teams of 8-10 people (not optimal) or to run experiments during times when safety and lab monitoring because serious issues. Simultaneously with struggling to deal with this problem, we began collaboration with UTC involving remotely accessible experiments. In fact, the UTC distillation column is physically nearly identical to the WPI column but much more flexible in its operation. In 2008 we ran the first trial comparison of remote lab compared to hands-on labs. ----------------Methodology-------------------We have completed two cycles of a pilot study that would inform a subsequent larger, more rigorous investigation. In 2008 we recruited 7 volunteer WPI teams from the cohort enrolled in the final sophomore year course to do the remote-only experiment using the UTC column. We also had 7 different WPI teams run the identical experiment locally using the WPI system. In 2009, 7 remote teams were assigned and 8 local teams were assigned, hence the bias introduced through self-selection was eliminated. Remote-only and hands-on-only teams conducted identical experiments with identical assignments and project reporting requirements. Evaluation had three components with direct and indirect assessments, giving us some degree of triangulation. Both cohorts completed surveys managed by a third partner: UIUC. The online survey included closed-end, Likert-scaled responses and open-ended questions. The open-ended questions included student attitudes but also probed team processing for both local and remote teams. We wanted to learn more about how each team handled roles, logistics, scheduling, data collection, and analysis to see if there were meaningful differences between an online team process and a hands-on team process. Course instructors compared final reports from remote and hands-on teams. A pre/post in-class quiz compared individual learning for students in the remote cohort compared to hands-on cohort in a quantitative manner. Qualitative measures include evaluating student attitudes about the experience and assessing students' improvement in ABET outcomes such as: (b) ? design, analysis and interpretation of data; (d) ? functioning on multidisciplinary teams; (g) ? effective remote communication; (h) - have broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, and environmental societal context; and (k) - using techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools (such as computers and web interfaces) necessary for engineering practice.