Delivering a Virtual Experience for STEM Students
Hands-on industry experience is critical for students in STEM. “Take-home test bench kits may suffice for first- and second-year engineering undergraduate students taking introductory courses, but as topics become more sophisticated, industry-grade equipment is imperative,” says Kornegay.
Paige Harvey, a lab manager at Morgan State, explains that during the university’s switch to a virtual educational model, staffers looked for applications that would enable students to get acclimated to industry-grade lab equipment, even if connecting from home. While teaching in her lab, Harvey uses Keysight’s Smart Bench Essentials to configure, control and monitor multiple bench instruments from a single screen. Students then access the lab equipment remotely with their peers to test, analyze and share data.
“A student can go in and request a virtual lab slot at 8 p.m., and then I can oversee the student’s data and measurement input in real time. I can chat with the student to guide them as needed, which allows me to get a full sense of whether the student understands key concepts,” says Harvey.
Monitoring the students’ data input in real time provides a window into the actual active learning experience. Students can move on to more complex topics once they understand the core concepts. Students come to that learning moment even while working remotely, explains Kornegay. Students find value in their exercises when the entire lab experience comes together. “We all have a broad range of students with different learning modalities, from auditory or visual to tactical,” he says. “To truly enrich these students, we need to present the information in one way or another and cater to each student’s needs.”
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Transforming Labs into Modern Innovation Hubs
As the global pandemic forced professors and department chairs to adapt to a new learning frontier, it shined a spotlight on new methods to remotely replicate the in-person lab experience. It shifted the university lab from a traditional learning center to a futuristic innovation hub.
“Electrical engineering, after all, is at the heart of just about every technology revolution, including autonomous vehicles, quantum computing and energy,” writes Doug Baney, corporate director of education for education for Keysight Technologies, in a company blog post. “Labs are critical to exposing students to the tools needed to enable future innovations.”
Sean Hum, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto, recently outfitted an experiential lab with industry-grade test bench instruments with remote capabilities to attract second-year engineering students to a hardware design course. According to Hum, “Our core idea in developing this laboratory was to provide students with anytime, anywhere testing capabilities similar to what their peers in software can enjoy. The instruments are remotely accessible, meaning students can set up experiments on the bench and remotely test them anytime they wish.”
But just as important to Hum was the physicality of the lab. “We really wanted to have a bench for students to be able to test their designs. We feel like students need this experience despite the proliferation of virtual lab products. There is this notion in our university and companies that hire our graduates that true electronics and communications engineers touch hardware. Those same companies are expecting our graduates to have hands-on experience in hardware and testing.”