Dermot P Brabazon – Dublin City University

High quality laboratory practical’s for undergraduate students require extensive demonstrator resources to implement on a week to week basis. This can be difficult to maintain over the course of a semester. This paper presents work in which an alternative technique to the traditional approach was developed. A virtual learning environment was employed to implement the entire lab, reducing demonstrator involvement and ensuring a constant quality of explanation and demonstration of concepts was provided to each group of students. This new laboratory practical was developed to demonstrate heat transfer and artificial neural network modelling to bio process engineering students. The use of this virtual environment approach allowed the inclusion of the application of industrial process monitoring and data acquisition in the teaching process. A full user interface was constructed that the students navigate through; this interface guided students through the entire lab, teaching heat transfer and artificial neural network concepts along with the general data collection and machine setup procedures. The virtual environment was constructed, with students learning styles in mind, providing information in both a global and sequential manner. This approach was seen to useful in terms of enabling student engagement.

National Instruments LabView software was selected as the programming environment as it allowed easy integration with data acquisition and analysis with high quality graphical user interfaces. This work shows how it is possible to attain low cost multifunctional data acquisition and device control to develop educational resources. Safety features were inbuilt into the program to ensure students could not damage the heat transfer rig, or injure themselves from the rig overheating, or malfunctioning. Trajan was used to simulate the artificial neural network models. The lab practical has been run quite efficiently over the course of the semester and it was seen that the use of a virtual learning environment engages the students more than traditional techniques, reduced the demonstrator workload, and provided increased student interactivity with industrial equipment. Evidence of this is presented in student and staff surveys as well as student learning outcome results.