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Universities Adopt Remote Lab Tools to Let Engineering Students Continue Work Remotely

Three universities have gone public with their use of remote laboratory equipment from National Instruments (NI) to give students hands-on practice with live data and instrumentation, even as they made the switch from in-person to remote classes. The company specializes in automated test and measurement systems.

At the University of Virginia, NI-enabled studio classes in electrical and computer engineering switched to the online format within a week, according to Professor Harry Powell. Powell said students were working on experiments in class using the VirtualBench All-in-One Instrument, which combines an oscilloscope with other common instruments. With some "straightforward" modifications to the experiments, he noted, they switched to doing the same activities from home on the Analog Discovery 2, a small USB-powered device that lets students build and test circuits.

"The students really like the AD2, and some have even asked if they can keep them even when they come back!" Powell said. "For us, the help of NI was a game changer in keeping our studio instruction going, and the AD2 was the perfect solution."

Students at Oklahoma State University were using the NI ELVIS III Protoboard, a virtual instrumentation suite, when the campus closed. When they moved home, they began running the same lab using the oscilloscope and function generator remotely, with the same experience they would have received if they had been sitting in the lab.

"The Elvis III allowed students direct access to real data and group work all while maintaining remote distancing from each other," said Joseph Connor, an adjunct assistant professor at the university. The workstation, which integrates several box instruments with a measurements environment, "allowed us to rapidly develop a remote lab that still provided students with the exposure and experience that only real-world equipment can provide."

At the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, faculty were encouraged to log in and reserve an ELVIS III, to learn how to help students do remote learning with the system. More than 50 instructors took advantage, and more than 500 students have logged into the remote learning system to complete their coursework. The company allowed software access free of charge to teachers and students, "which shows NI's commitment to social responsibility," noted Liu Chuang, a professor at SUST.

NI runs an academic program, with curriculum, academic site licensing for school and student computers and industry certification.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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