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AMIE Laboratory Experiments Practice here
Virtual Labs, a project initiated by the Ministry under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT), was released earlier this year with the objective of using the Internet to make up for the inadequate laboratory infrastructure in colleges in the State, with particular focus on rural colleges.
The 91 lab experiments, covering nine broad areas, have been developed by 12 institutes from across the country. Apart from seven Indian Institutes of Technology (Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Roorkee and Guwahati), International Institute for Information Technology-Hyderabad, Amrita University, Dayalbagh University, National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK), and College of Engineering, Pune, developed the experiments that were subsequently uploaded on the
The method involved involves simplifying learning of the experiment procedure by reducing textual information into packets of interactive graphics and diagrams – an attempt to translate the audio-visual experience of the lab into the virtual world.
For example, take the experiment to find the moment of inertia of a connecting rod, which was developed by College of Engineering, Pune. While the online experiment lists of background information and mathematical theory – in the form of text and schematic diagrams, as one would find in a textbook – it also contains a simulator, where the student, through the appropriate clicks of the mouse, can perform the experiment.
“The project would be useful for rural colleges, where there are no quality lab facilities available,” said Gangadharan K.V., a professor at NITK who coordinated the development of the “solve” labs in the institute.
The success of the project, however, depends entirely on the real-world problem of poor Internet connectivity in the rural parts of the State. To meet this problem, the Ministry plans to provide connectivity to over 1,800 institutes in the country, said Mr. Gangadharan.
HANDS-ON VS. ONLINE
However, can the clicking of the mouse substitute the hands-on experience of physical readings in a laboratory? The NMEICT mission statement ambiguously skirts the issue of whether ‘Virtual Labs' would actually replace practicals in colleges following the system. The statement says that for the ‘touch and feel' part, students “can possibly” visit an actual laboratory.
“It's like learning to play cricket by watching it on television,” said S. Parthan, a retired aeronautical professor from IIT-Kharagpur. Calling the lack of emphasis on practicals as one of the big problems afflicting the education system in the country, he said: “It is one thing to look at the computer or TV screen and it is another to work an actual model.”
While agreeing that the system cannot entirely replace an actual laboratory experimentation, Mr. Gangadharan said that the objective of ‘Virtual Labs' was to encourage scientific curiosity among students, and to optimise resource allocation.
Costly equipment and resources could be shared between colleges by optimising the time the student spends to conduct an experiment. “By learning about the experiment on ‘Virtual Labs,' the student has enough knowledge to take on the machine from the moment he or she steps into the laboratory. Hence, in the working hours of the lab, more students can conduct experiments,” he said.
The system would also help tackle one of the most pressing issues of the education system in the country – the lack of teachers. Fewer teachers would be required to coach a group of students, when a bulk of the theory could be grasped interactively through ‘Virtual Labs,' he said.
Though the lab started public operations only on February 23, Mr. Gangadharan said the response was encouraging. The labs developed by NITK have received over 2,000 unique views, with people from over 20 countries visiting the site. A user spent an average of around seven minutes in the website, he said. “From next month onwards, we'll approach different colleges in the State to adopt the method.”
‘Virtual Labs' is a small step in the larger scheme of things. According to the NMEICT mission document, it would be a part of the ‘Learning Management System' where students can utilise the various tools for learning, including additional web-resources, video-lectures, animated demonstrations and self-evaluation.
“All these resources would constitute a virtual university, which would aid students grasp concepts and venture beyond their syllabus,” said Mr. Gangadharan.
A more ambitious step is remotely conducting experiments. According to Mr. Gangadharan, students can, in the near future, conduct an experiment in an actual lab by controlling triggers and through a computer interface in their college.
“This would entail carrying out the actual lab experiment remotely,” states the mission statement.
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AMIE Laboratory Experiments Practice here