The world currently is going through a crisis that is unprecedented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the education sector, the challenge is humungous with the education of 300+ million students disrupted worldwide, leaving the universities and schools to deal with a situation that they were never prepared to handle.
However, thanks to the advancement in technology, today we can ensure that education continues despite widespread and uncertain lockdowns on educational institutions and have positive learning experiences and outcomes, including technical education, which is so strongly dependent on hands-on learning. Nevertheless, extending the traditional hands-on laboratory settings over the online virtual and remote lab remains a challenge for education in engineering.
“Traditionally, engineering education and hands-on laboratories have been an essential part of undergraduate engineering and vocational programs. Concepts taught through lectures are often complemented with laboratory experimentations,” says Senthil Kugan, a tech-entrepreneur and a visionary with an endless passion for education and innovative technology solutions for learning. Founded by Senthil Kugan, EdNex is a futuristic experiential learning and training consultant and solutions provider for K-12, Higher Education and Vocational & Industrial organisations.
Ednex has been creating awareness on Virtual lab management Platforms in Partnership with leading Virtual lab solution providers Intelitek, Learnmate and Quanser Qlabs. Senthil Kugan shares, “We have created virtual lab management packages for various labs and delivering the platform with the lab management systems to interface with the existing LMS in the institute. They can also manage the lab with the management system provided by Ednex.” Besides, EdNex also provides virtual lab management certificate training for lab engineers to get them certified in a lab, including Mechanical & Mechatronics, Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, Electrical & Electronics, and Instrumentation & Process Control.
“There are various studies conducted about the effectiveness of virtual and physical lab. Both labs offer significant experience, skills and knowledge. Hence, virtual labs are a great supplement to the physical lab rather than alternative,” comments Senthil Kugan. In fact, the focus of modern universities should be on designing hybrid laboratories and also altering the curriculum accordingly to combine the positive aspects of Physical and Virtual lab to ensure that all the learning objectives of engineering laboratories are achieved in full.
Senthil Kugan pinpoints, “Hands-on education allows students to experience the concepts and practising skills, conducting experiments, observing dynamic phenomena, testing hypotheses, learning from their mistakes, and reaching their own conclusions. With the rapid progress of the controls and communication technologies like IoT, more and more labs can be conducted online Virtual lab can be reconfigured and controlled remotely. These new functionalities have been making remote hands-on training via internet possible.” New possibilities in the way lab exercises are performed include the simulation of the lab environment online without the license issued to student computers. Student can access this lab through the Virtual Lab management system of the university/vocational school. Currently, there are two approaches to conducting labs online, virtual and remote labs.
Indeed, there is a lack of awareness in the educational community who either do not know many details about them or do not know them at all. What are their benefits? Which examples of virtual and remote labs for engineering and vocational education can be found in the virtual lab and remote, and how spread and popular are they? What are the current trends and issues in the implementation and deployment of these tools? And the future ones?
What is Virtual and Remote lab?
“The Virtual lab is based on the software Java applet, Flash, Matlab/Simulink, Labview and other software to simulate the Labs like Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics, Electrical & Electronics, Manufacturing, Control,” explains Senthil Kugan. Virtual lab simulations are used along with the hardware in laboratories traditionally. Now, these virtual simulations are available through cloud-based online portals, which enable the institution to allow the student to access this virtual lab without issuing a license to the students’ devices.
“Remote lab, by definition, is an experiment conducted and controlled on the lab hardware remotely through the internet with the web interface software. The experiment conducted to use the real hardware in the lab or different location,” states Senthil Kugan. This remote lab can be equipped with features based on the lab requirement and safety requirement of the hardware. Student can be allowed only to collect the data, or they are allowed to control the parameters remotely. This is based on the hardware control features for a web interface. With new IoT enabled controls, digital twins possible in future labs. Already leading educational lab manufacturers like Quanser and Intelitek adopted the remote lab control and digital twins features in their lab equipment.
Benefits of Online Virtual and Remote lab
Beyond the pandemic, the Virtual and Remote lab has great potential and need to be adopted across the Universities and Vocational schools.
- Enable the student to access the Lab 24×7,
- Universities can adopt virtual lab along with hardware for expensive labs like CNC, CIM, Robotics and Automation and other control labs to extend the hands-on learning to students at any time.
- Virtual labs allow students to repeat an experiment multiple times, giving them an opportunity to test the experiments with various parameters and outcomes
- The most important benefit of a virtual lab is to let the student learn from Failures without causing any real damages, which is also the objective of engineering education laboratories.
- Student can gain more skill by allowing them to work on this virtual lab without time restriction.
What are the labs currently available in the Virtual lab for Engineering & Vocational Education?
Most of the Mechanical, Mechatronics, Electrical & Electronics, Robotics & Control labs are currently available in popular Virtual lab portals, Learnmate & Qlab.
- Engineering Foundation labs
- Electrical & Electronics E-learning with Virtual lab
- Material Testing
- Control lab
- Instrumentation & Process control
Challenges in Implementation & Deployment of Virtual lab
Despite the virtual labs in existence for more than a decade, the importance of online virtual lab is widely discussed during this pandemic. It became essential for universities and vocational schools to continue to deliver technical education with standards.
- The main challenge is the lack of awareness and training for Existing Lab Engineers and Faculties to adopt this virtual lab part of their education systems
- Universities and Vocational Schools has to adopt the Virtual lab management tools as part of their learning management system LMS
- Training required to lab engineers and faculties on virtual lab to deliver and manage lab assessment report
- Migration from existing lab management tool to online assessment tool for labs
- IT infrastructure and resources for deploying the cloud-based Virtual lab
About Senthil Kugan
Senthil Kugan’s unwavering commitment to improve the classroom and to shape the path in which students learn in the future has set new benchmarks in the industry. He has been instrumental in pioneering many pathbreaking initiatives such as Integrated STEM Labs, Innovation Labs, Fab Labs, Makerspaces, and prestigious competitions such as the Robotics Olympiad, 3D Printing Olympiad, First Lego League, etc. Senthil has presented at many prestigious events and conducted several technical workshops in STEM, Robotics, Coding, and many more.