387201 Engagement, Teamwork, and Transfer: A Comparison of Physical Laboratories and Virtual Laboratories
Laboratory courses are an important part of engineering curricula, allowing students to act as practicing engineers by engaging in a hands-on experiment on a physical reactor, working as a team and applying the theory and concepts they have gained in other classrooms. With the advent of technology, virtual laboratories have become a complement to physical laboratories. Virtual laboratories allow students to work with complex, large-scale processes that may not be available in the classroom physically, due to space, time and monetary constraints. They can also be used as a scaffolding tool, reducing the students’ focus on making the physical equipment work and allowing them to focus more on their experimental strategy, conceptual understanding and data analysis. This work describes survey results from a cohort of students participating in laboratory course that includes both physical laboratories and a virtual laboratory in order to investigate how the students’ perceptions differ between the two. For example, how does student engagement differ in physical and virtual laboratories? Do students approach collaboration and cooperation similarly in the two settings? Is it easier to apply or even recognize the need for previous knowledge in a physical or in a virtual laboratory?
Throughout the course, 133 students worked in teams to complete three different projects. Two projects are based on physical laboratories, including heat exchange and ion exchange experiments, and one is based the Industrially-Situated Virtual Laboratory, using either a chemical vapor deposition reactor or a bioreactor. Through a set of five surveys, we investigated the overall change in students’ views and compared the students’ perceptions of each of the three laboratory projects. The survey results were analyzed using principal component analysis to determine the significance of and correlation between factors such as engagement, teamwork, agency and transfer in both the virtual and physical laboratories. By analyzing the pre- and post-course surveys, we consider if the laboratory course as a whole affected the students’ interest in engineering and their view of success. Analysis of the post-laboratory surveys allows for a comparison of student perceptions of physical and virtual laboratory experiences. We found that when students work in virtual laboratories, they are more engaged, find it easier to work in teams and are able to better transfer past knowledge, thus demonstrating that virtual laboratories are an engaging, realistic component of the engineering laboratory curriculum.
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