Students’ assessment of interactive distance experimentation in nuclear reactor physics laboratory education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of Manchester Library]On: 07 December 2014, At: 09:03Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Students assessment of interactivedistance experimentation in nuclearreactor physics laboratory educationSalaheddin Malkawia & Omar Al-Araidahba Department of Nuclear Engineering, Jordan University of Science& Technology, Jordanb Department of Industrial Engineering, Jordan University ofScience & Technology, JordanPublished online: 27 Jun 2013.

    To cite this article: Salaheddin Malkawi & Omar Al-Araidah (2013) Students assessment ofinteractive distance experimentation in nuclear reactor physics laboratory education, EuropeanJournal of Engineering Education, 38:5, 512-518, DOI: 10.1080/03043797.2013.811476

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • European Journal of Engineering Education, 2013Vol. 38, No. 5, 512518, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2013.811476

    Students assessment of interactive distance experimentation innuclear reactor physics laboratory education

    Salaheddin Malkawia* and Omar Al-Araidahb

    aDepartment of Nuclear Engineering, Jordan University of Science & Technology, Jordan;bDepartment of Industrial Engineering, Jordan University of Science & Technology, Jordan

    (Received 14 August 2012; final version received 22 May 2013)

    Laboratory experiments develop students skills in dealing with laboratory instruments and physical pro-cesses with the objective of reinforcing the understanding of the investigated subject. In nuclear engineering,where research reactors play a vital role in the practical education of students, the high cost and long con-struction time of research reactors limit their accessibility to few educational programmes around theworld. The concept of the Internet Reactor Laboratory (IRL) was introduced earlier as a new approach thatutilises distance education in nuclear reactor physics laboratory education. This paper presents an initialassessment of the implementation of the IRL between the PULSTAR research reactor at North CarolinaState University in the USA and the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Jordan University of Scienceand Technology (JUST) in Jordan. The IRL was implemented in teaching the Nuclear Reactor laboratorycourse for two semesters. Feedback from surveyed students verifies that the outcomes attained from usingIRL in experimentation are comparable to that attainable from other on-campus laboratories performed bythe students.

    Keywords: Internet Reactor Laboratory; PULSTAR Reactor; JUST; remote laboratory

    1. Introduction

    In engineering education, instructors utilise several educational tools, including written exercises,system simulation, practical projects, and real experiments, to reinforce the understanding ofcourse subjects. In addition to enhancing students mental skills, real experiments allow studentsto use instrumentation and deal with the physical processes. For many students, it is not alwaysfeasible to attend classes for conventional learning. In addition, the high cost of experimentalinstrumentation prevents many campuses worldwide from providing laboratory education, andthat weakens the learning experience for on-campus students.As a result, many distance educationmodels are proposed and used worldwide to overcome location, space, time, and cost limitationsand to enhance the learning experience (Gustavsson 2001).

    Although distance education for theoretical courses is a well-established field, its use in labo-ratory courses has witnessed limited applications. This gap in the scale of applications of distanceeducation in laboratory courses as compared to theoretical courses is due to the unique features ofeach laboratory course, which has to be dealt with on case-by-case bases. One option, to overcome

    *Corresponding author. Email: salahm@just.edu.jo

    2013 SEFI

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  • European Journal of Engineering Education 513

    the problem of unavailability of laboratory facilities on campus, is the use of simulators andVirtualLaboratories (Jara et al. 2009; Shin et al. 2002; Yang and Alty 2002).

    This option has some applications in areas such as Chemistry (Dalgarno et al. 2009), Instru-mentation and Measurements (Grimaldi and Rapuano 2009), and Mechatronics and Robotics(Potkonjak et al. 2010). However, the disadvantage with simulators and Virtual Laboratories isthat they do not give students/trainees the practical experience of working with real equipment.The other option is the use of remote laboratories that overcome the problem of distance betweenthe student/trainee and the facility, but at the same time gives the student the privilege of workingwith real equipment in real time (Colwell, Scanlon, and Cooper 2002; Corter et al. 2011; Fabregaset al. 2011; Nickerson et al. 2007; Rojko, Hercog, and Jezernik 2011). Axaopoulos, Moutsopou-los, and Theodoridis (2012) proposed a setup for remote experimentation using real hardware andunder real test conditions for engineering students using the Internet and live video streaming.The authors illustrated the usability of the system in photovoltaic voltage curve characterisation.Published features of networking technologies used in laboratories in distance electrical engineer-ing education are surveyed in Almarshoud (2011). Khachadorian et al. (2011) presented practicalcourses for online experimentation in classical and modern physics. The modified courses arecredited as elective courses at the Berlin Institute of Technology. Ku, Ahfock, and Yusaf (2011)reported that remote access laboratories are being largely developed and used in engineering edu-cation in Australia and Europe to allow cost-effective experimentation for students from variousinstitutions.

    In the past few years, many countries around the world showed their interest to embark forthe first time on nuclear energy as part of their energy mix. However, many of these countrieslack expertise and/or financial resources necessary to develop the required infrastructure forsustainable nuclear education and training programmes. Like other engineering disciplines, lab-oratory education is an essential component in any nuclear engineering education programme,where research reactors play an important role. Moreover, research reactors have always beenconsidered as the first step in acquiring nuclear technology. Furthermore, having a researchreactor solely for educational purposes is very costly and requires a number of years to becommissioned.

    The Internet Reactor Laboratory (IRL) is a new approach that utilises the concepts of distanceeducation in nuclear reactor physics laboratory education. This approach was implemented forthe first time across international borders between the Department of Nuclear Engineering (NE)at Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) in Jordan and the PULSTAR researchreactor at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in the USA (Malkawi et al. 2010). So far,the IRL has been utilised twice in Fall 2010 and Spring 2012 in teaching the course NuclearReactor laboratory, which is a compulsory course for the NE students at JUST. The IRL projectbetween PULSTAR reactor and JUST is considered a model that a number of countries aroundthe world are trying to repeat with direct support and follow-up from the International AtomicEnergy Agency (IAEA).

    The work presented in this paper discusses the evolution of the IRL as a new approach inteaching the Nuclear Reactor laboratory course across international borders. The study discussesthe benefits from and possible limitations facing the expansion in the use of research reactors foreducation. Among the many limitations, language and time difference are highly expected whenimplementing distance education across borders. Moreover, the study compares the educationaloutcomes attained from using the IRL to those attained from other conventional laboratoriesat JUST and from Nuclear Reactor laboratories at institutions outside Jordan. The assessmentfocuses on the evaluation of students who studied the Nuclear Reactor laboratory course throughthe IRL, whereas all other laboratory courses were taken on campus. Moreover, the study includesfeedback from JUST exchange students who had the chance to attend a Nuclear Reactor laboratoryat institutes outside Jordan.

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  • 514 S. Malkawi and O. Al-Araidah

    2. NE Education in Jordan

    JUST is a leading educational institute in Jordan (Aqlan, Al-Araidah, and Al-Hawari 2010).In 2007, JUST established the first and only NE programme in Jordan with the objective toprovide Jordans nuclear energy programme with qualified nuclear engineers and support itshuman capacity-building programme (Jordan Atomic Energy Commission 2011). This step cameas a direct response to Jordans desire to introduce nuclear energy for electricity generation andpotentially for water desalination.

    Today, the NE department at JUST offers a Bachelor of Science of 159 credit hours in NE over aperiod of five years, where 17 of the 159 credits are laboratory courses. Therefore, and to achieve itsgoal as Jordans centre of excellence for nuclear education and research, JUST established world-class facilities at the NE department. These include a High Performance Computing Laboratoryfor advanced computational methods in NE, Nuclear Interaction and detection laboratories foreducation and research purposes. Moreover, Jordan Subcritical Assembly (JSA) was constructedat the department and is expected to be commissioned before the end of 2012. JSA is the firstnuclear facility to be built in Jordan. In addition, Jordan Atomic Energy Commission is currentlyconstructing on JUSTs campus Jordan Research and Training Reactor (JRTR), which is a 5 MWresearch reactor. JRTR is scheduled to be operational by 2015.

    There are currently over 100 students enrolled in the undergraduate programme. The first andsecond class of students completed their studies in June 2011 and June 2012, respectively. Thegraduated students took 10 laboratory courses on campus, whereas the Nuclear Reactor Laboratorywas taught using the IRL.

    3. The IRL

    The IRL utilises video conferencing, online reactor instrumentation, and data acquisition systemsto provide reactor laboratory sessions to students at JUST. This novel approach employs the con-cepts of distance education in nuclear reactor physics laboratory education. The IRL project wasimplemented under the auspices of IAEA who is trying now to repeat this model in other countries.

    The basic idea behind the IRL is to have a host reactor that allows a guest institution to carry outnuclear reactor experiments remotely. The host reactor operators are not expected to carry out anyteaching activities; it is the responsibility of the guest institution to make sure that experimentsperformed remotely on the host reactor are sufficient to meet their course objectives. On the otherhand, all safety, security, and other regulatory considerations are mainly the responsibility of thehost reactor. Therefore, the link between the host reactor and the guest institution should not allowaccess to any of the host reactor controls (Malkawi et al. 2010). Technically, the IRL establishesaudio/video conferencing between the host reactor and the guest institution. This connectionallows students at the far end to communicate with the reactor operators and to monitor and takereadings from the different indicators and displays in the reactor control room. Reactor parameterssuch as power level, control rod positions, temperatures, alarms, and other parameters are trans-mitted digitally to the guest institution and are displayed using a virtual console. Moreover, thesystem allows students and reactor operators real-time elaboration and assessment. Experimentsthat can be performed using the IRL have to be agreed upon mutually and depend on the capabili-ties of the host reactor and the needs of the guest institution. Experiments can include, but are notlimited to, approach to critical, control rod calibration, flux mapping, temperature coefficient ofreactivity, etc. It is worth mentioning here that only licenced operators, by the Nuclear RegulatoryAuthority, are allowed to operate the reactor and have access to the reactor controls. The role ofeither on-campus or IRL students in the Nuclear Reactor laboratory is limited to monitoring theexperiments as it is being performed and record readings. During a laboratory session, students

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  • European Journal of Engineering Education 515

    Figure 1. Schematic diagram illustrating the connection between the PULSTAR reactor and JUST.

    Figure 2. The PULSTAR reactor control room and the virtual console as viewed by students at JUST.

    communicate their requests concerning experiment controls to the reactors operators to imple-ment, providing that changes do not violate safety regulations. Consequently, students interactionwith reactor controls through the IRL is similar to that for students present at the reactor location.

    In our case, the host reactor is the NCSU PULSTAR reactor, which is 1-MWth open-pooltype that is light water moderated and cooled. The core of the PULSTAR reactor is fuelled withuranium dioxide (UO2) enriched to 4% in U-235. Figure 1 shows a schematic diagram of theconnection between the PULSTAR reactor and the NE Department at JUST (guest institution).Figure 2 shows a snap shot of the PULSTAR reactor control room and the virtual console as seenby students at JUST.

    4. Evaluation and results

    The IRL is utilised to teach the Nuclear Reactor laboratory course for undergraduate NE studentsat JUST. The Nuclear Reactor laboratory course is a laboratory course that is intended to give

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  • 516 S. Malkawi and O. Al-Araidah

    students the basic knowledge in experimental measurements of basic nuclear reactor parameters,flux measurement, reactor period, approach to critical, and reactor operation and safety. Upon thesuccessful completion of this course, students are also expected to be able to analyse and inter-pret data from reactor physics and dynamics measurements, leading to an assessment of reactorconditions. To assess their attained skills, students are required to individually turn in a reportfollowing each experiment, discuss their results in groups, and set for midterm and final exams.

    The IRL was utilised in teaching the Nuclear Reactor laboratory course for the first time inFall 2010. Four of the students from the first batch had another chance to participate in an IAEAfellowship on Nuclear Reactor Laboratory in Austria. The course was offered for the second batchof students in Spring 2012. In both semesters, five reactor laboratory sessions were held. In the firstsession, students were given a brief introduction to the PULSTAR research reactor with emphasison the practical aspects that are required to perform the subsequent experiments. This includeddetailed discussions of the reactors nuclear instrumentation and control, particularly as seenthrough the control room. A demonstration of the reactor startup and shutdown procedures werealso given in this session. The other four sessions were devoted for the following experiments

    approach to critical (inverse multiplication), control rod calibration, neuron flux mapping, and dynamic measurement of prompt power coefficient of reactivity.

    (a) (b)

    (c) (d)

    (e) (f)

    Figure 3. Studentsevaluation of the IRL in teaching the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory course. Response to the statementsin each graph is given in an out of 10 score (10 represents total agreement with the stated statement).

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  • European Journal of Engineering Education 517

    To evaluate benefits of the IRL from the students point of view and to confirm its usability ascompared to others on campus laboratories, students were asked to complete a self-administratedquestionnaire and assess their experience by responding to each question by an out of 10 score(10 represents total agreement with the stated statement). Moreover, students were asked to provideadditional comments concerning the usability of the IRL. The questionnaire was distributed tostudents at the end of each semester where 15 students participated in filling the questionnaire inthe first semester (Fall 2010) and 27 students in the second semester (Spring 2012).

    Figure 3 presents survey statements and responses from students over the two semesters. Resultsobtained from the study illustrate a high satisfaction in the overall IRL experience and in thebenefits attained from utilising the IRL in education across international borders. As seen fromresults, no negative feedback is reported by students and the majority of students illustrated theusability of the system in experimental education. It is worth reminding that on-campus studentsat NCSU have no advantages over JUST students regarding experimental control. Additionalcomments provided by students illustrated that IRL is an excellent tool for educational purposeson reactor physics; the comments illustrated the following advantages of IRL:

    (1) Benefit from an already existing research reactor with all its accumulative experience.(2) Access can be arranged in no time as compared to the construction of a new research reactor.(3) Can accommodate larger number of students in one session, as compared to education in the

    actual reactor.(4) Reduces safety and security requirements concerning students access to the reactor.

    5. Conclusions

    This paper presents an initial assessment of the utilisation of distance education in nuclear reactorphysics laboratory education through the use of the IRL, which was implemented for the firsttime across national borders between the PULSTAR research reactor at NCSU in the USA andthe NE Department at JUST in Jordan. The IRL was used for two semesters in teaching theNuclear Reactor Laboratory course for NE students at JUST. Building on the fact that on-campusand distant students have no control over the reactor during experiments, learning objectives andoutcomes were assessed through laboratory reports, group discussions of experimental results,and midterm and final exams. Feedback results from surveyed students verified the usability ofthe IRL education model in distance experimental education. Survey results illustrated generalsatisfaction among students in distance nuclear experimentation using PULSTAR. Students verifythat their learning experience using the IRL is comparable to that attained from other on-campuslaboratories during their course of study. Moreover, feedback from exchange students who hadthe chance to attend a similar on-campus course confirmed that an on-campus student has noadvantage over a distant student during an experiment. Furthermore, results show that languagewas not a barrier to communicating with reactor operators and did not limit the learning experience.The attained success in meeting the course objectives of the Nuclear Reactor laboratory using theIRL validates the usability of the NCSU-JUST experience in teaching NE across internationalborders.

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    About the authors

    Salaheddin Malkawi is the chairman of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Jordan University of Science andTechnology. He has a PhD and MSc in Nuclear Engineering and BSc in Electronic Engineering. His teaching and researchexperience is related to the different areas of nuclear engineering.

    Omar Al-Araidah is an associate professor of Industrial Engineering at Jordan University of Science and Technology. Hereceived his PhD in Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA, in May2005. His teaching and research works emphasise links between the multidisciplinary areas of industrial engineering.

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    http://www.Jaec.gov.jo

    IntroductionNE Education in JordanThe IRLEvaluation and resultsConclusions

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