New opportunities to virtualize engineering laboratory experiments have arisen due to the proliferation of low-cost video recording devices, the widespread availability of free video hosting, and rising student preferences for “always available” learning activities. In years past, such virtualization required bulky, expensive, and complex video equipment, and was limited by inconvenient analog editing tools and the physical distribution of the finished product. At the present, by contrast, instructors wishing to prepare instructional video recordings often have the requisite video recording, editing, and publishing tools already built into their smartphones, and easy video hosting from YouTube, Vimeo, and university-owned networks. Therefore, students can access recordings moments after they are posted, at any distance from campus, using a myriad of electronic devices such as PCs, tablets, smartphones, etc.

An in-person, hands-on laboratory experience may be pedagogically superior in such cases as the first time that students are introduced to a certain piece of lab equipment, in order for students to develop experience performing a certain lab procedure, or when team interaction is a key component of a particular learning exercise. However, there are other instances where there is limited educational benefit to the student being physically present in the lab while an experiment is being carried out. In the case of a fluid mechanics laboratory where data collection consists entirely of transcribing data from a pressure gage to a data collection sheet, for example, the primary educational value of the lab exercise lies after data collection is complete and the student begins to analyze the data in question. Thus, virtualization of the laboratory experiment through asynchronous review of a video recording of the experiment being conducted represents a compromise between the student being physically present for data collection and simply being given the data directly.

This manner of virtualization presents a number of benefits to students and instructors. For students, there are schedule flexibility and travel-avoidance advantages to being able to participate in the experiment at the time that is most convenient. Additionally, many students may benefit from being able to re-watch portions of the experiment multiple times. Finally, virtualization can give each student an optimal, front-row view of the phenomena being studied. For instructors, virtualization can reduce the amount of time engaged in repetitive tasks in the lab and enable this time to be redirected to answering student questions and giving meaningful feedback on student lab reports.


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