How an Online Engineering Lab Experience Promotes Inclusion

Ayes Tekes, Kennesaw State University, Engineering Department (IUSE Award #2002350)

Lab activities are important for helping students visualize course concepts and apply knowledge through hands-on learning. However, faculty who teach face-to-face lab sections were not prepared for the quick transition online. While results of simulations can be performed by the instructor in the classroom using commercially available software, some students find it difficult to fully comprehend, link, and visualize the physical movements associated with the fundamental phenomena.

Overcoming Challenges to Create Engaging Lab Experiences Online

To meet the need of creating an online lab, Dr. Tekes created videos focused on course concepts and a corresponding user-friendly Matlab Simscape graphical user interphase (GUI) program. The following program attributes led to the lab’s success:

  • D2L videos that explain course concepts and provide clear instructions for labs.
  • User interface program designed specifically for course concepts (in this case, mechanical vibrations and control theory).
  • Step-by-step instruction manuals to help guide students through the lab activities: [1,2,3].
  • Scaffolded approach with videos on course concepts and clear expectations for lab experiments allowed students to identify the “why” for the activity and gain deeper learning.
  • Several concepts combined in one package for extended learning using the same system.

In a survey, students who used the Matlab Simscape GUI program found the learning activities to be of “much help” or “very much help” in understanding the theoretical concepts, and also in helping them develop their engineering skills.

“I think the GUI is a terrific way to visually show the engineering theories and how slight changes will affect the system behavior.”

Implications Beyond the Pandemic

Undergraduate students often struggle with highly mathematical concepts. Although laboratories help them better comprehend the abstract topics, most of the mechanical engineering laboratories are taken in the following semester making it difficult for students to recall the concepts. If the theory can be visualized in a traditional classroom after a brief introduction using such GUI applications, students not only have a clear understanding but also can link the theory with their real-world applications.

Learn more about Dr. Tekes’ Matlab Simscape GUI program.