Virtual and distance experiments: pedagogical alternatives, not logistical alternatives

Euan Lindsay, Malcolm Good

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Remote and virtual access to laboratory classes are increasingly prevalent in undergraduate engineering courses, but as yet there have been few, if any, studies, that adequately evaluate the learning outcomes of these alternative access modes. The move to alternative access modes has been driven primarily by logistical imperatives such as increased flexibility of delivery, and potential cost reductions. This focus on the "how" of implementing the laboratories has come at the expensive of the "why" - the impact upon the students' learning has been largely overlooked. This paper reports a study into remote and virtual access to laboratory equipment, and shows that there are statistically significant differences between the students' achievement on a number of learning outcomes. In particular, it shows that certain types of learning outcomes are impacted differently in different modes. This fine-grained analysis avoids the common pitfall of simply comparing overall aggregated marks, and shows that rather than no effect upon outcomes, there are instead multiple changes in learning outcomes whose combined effects upon the students' marks cancel out. The transparency of the interface was found to be a key factor in determining the quality of learning outcomes in the remote mode; however, it was not found to be significant in the simulation mode. This finding, whilst surprising, is explained when the theory pertinent to separation is considered. The take home message of this paper is that moving to remote and virtual access to laboratory hardware leads to significant changes in the learning outcomes of the students who experience this laboratory. In the face of such changes, these alternative access modes must be considered pedagogical alternatives, rather than simply logistical conveniences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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