Constructivist Laboratory Education

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


  • 1. Towards Constructivist Laboratory Education: Case Study for Process Control Laboratory M Abdulwahed 1,2andZ K Nagy 2 1 Engineering Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Loughborough University, United Kingdom 2 Chemical Engineering Department,Loughborough University, United Kingdom October 25, 2008 FIE 2008, Saratoga Springs, New York

2. Overview

  • Introduction
  • Types of Laboratories (hands-on, virtual, remote, hybrid)
  • The Trilab
  • Pedagogical background constructivism and Kolbs experiential learning model
  • Case study Process Control Laboratory
  • Conclusions


  • Engineering involves elements of design, problem solving, analytical thinking, data acquisition and analysis. Well designed labs can enhances these skills.
  • Engineering became theory oriented during the 20th century and much less attention was paid for labs.
  • Recent engineering education literature calls for rethinking the important role of laboratory in the engineering curricula.
  • Recent shift towards constructivist pedagogy urges embedding more labs in the curricula and linking constructivist pedagogical theories with engineering educational practices

Introduction - Laboratory Education 4. Types of Laboratories Hands-on Lab Virtual (Simulated) Lab Remote Lab 5.

  • Hands-on labs are essential in engineering and science education(Johnstone et al 2001; Hofestein et al 2004; Feisel et al 2005; Kirschener et al 1988; Ma et al 2006).
  • Hands-on laboratories suffer from several drawbacks:
    • are barely a platform of constructing new meaningful knowledge(Gunstone 1991).
    • often impose a higher cognitive load than the level of students perception(Kirschner et al 1988).
    • time/space constraints, limited number/type of experiments.
  • Constructivist learning in the laboratory implies adopting further technologies and developing modern approaches of conducting labs(Hofestein et al 2004; Roth 1994; Hodson 1996).

Hands-On Laboratories 6.

  • First computer simulation assisted education took place in UK in 1962!(Smith 1992).
  • Computer simulations have been found in general useful in facilitating conceptual learning(Ingram et al 1979; Kinzel et al 1981; Adams 1981; Jimoyiannis et al 2001; Powel et al 2003).
  • Virtual Labs are not limited by timetables, access is not mutually exclusive, fast, safe, clean, inexpensive.
  • Virtual Labs can be adapted when hands-on labs are impossible to implement in the academic institutions, i.e. due to high cost or safety issues.

Virtual (Simulated) Laboratories 7.

  • Virtual Labs do not demonstrate real-time variability, limited range of possible experimental outcome.
  • A psychological element ofbeliefis absent
  • Engineering students are expecting labs to be something hands-on always.
  • There is general agreement that simulations should not be alternative of real hands-on labs when the last can be made available(Raineri 2001; Engum et al 2003; Heise 2006).

Virtual (Simulated) Laboratories 8.

  • First idea of using internet for remote controlled labs was proposed in 1991(Aburdene et al 1991),first implementation took place in 1993 between NASA and other four US academic institutions(Kondraske et al 1993).
  • Remote Labs were found stimulating the students towards the subject.
  • Access to remote labs is more flexible and not restricted by the geographical location.
  • Not all hands-on labs are convertible to remote access.
  • Various technologies have been used in implementing online labs such as Matlab/Simulink, RTLinux, HTTP, HTML, XML, JAVA, and LabView.

Remote (Online) Laboratories 9.

  • Hybrid access modes to labs have been reported to be useful in enriching the learning experience(McAteer et al 1996; Ronen et al 2000; Raineri 2001; Spicer et al 2001; Tzafestas et al 2006).
  • However few hybrid labs with two access modes were reported(Engum et al 2003; Raineri 2001;Tzafestas et al 2006).
  • Seldom reported that three access modes have been utilized together.
  • Each laboratory access mode has different learning outcomes(Lindsay et al 2006).Hybrid structure may enrich the learning experience and accommodate more learning styles.
  • In recent laboratory literature, there are many calls of adapting hybrid labs in laboratory education(Ma et al 2006).

Hybrid Laboratories 10. TriLab Combined approach The TriLab

  • Triple Access, Virtual, Hands-on, and Remote.
  • Maximizes learning experience by combining all three types of laboratories
  • Accommodates different learning styles.
  • Plays important constructivist role in the teaching of the associated module

On-site Lab VirtualLab TeleLab 11. Pedagogical Background - Constructivism

  • Student centred approach in constructingknowledge through assimilation and accommodation (Piaget 1977).
  • Emphasize on meaningful learning, relevance to reality and students knowledge.
  • Emphasize on social learning and social interactions (Vygotsky 1978).
  • Strong emphasise on learning through experience (Dewey 1938, Kolb 1984).

12. Kolbs Experiential Learning Model

  • Well accepted in the pedagogical literature
  • Four stages CE, RO, AC, AE composing two dimensions:
    • The Prehension Dimension (CE,AC)
    • The Transformation Dimension (RO, AE)
  • Optimal learning occurs when a balance between CE, RO, AC, and AE stages is obtained.
  • Traditional teaching gave higher attention to AC.
  • Enhanced learning is reported with Kolbs Cycle design (Bailey et al 2004)

Abstract Conceptualization Concrete Experience Reflective Observation Active Experimentation 13. Pedagogical Background, Constructivism Poor learning outcome of the laboratory session is mainly due to weak activation of the prehension dimensionbefore coming to the lab, hence the lab session turns into algorithmic and procedural following of the lab manual instead of actively constructing meaningful knowledge out of it. Proposition Abstract Conceptualization Concrete Experience Reflective Observation Active Experimentation 14.

  • Intervention design for activating the prehension dimension (virtual lab as pre lab).
  • Measuring whether the intervention leads to activating the prehension dimension?
  • If yes, does it lead to better learning outcome in the lab?

Verification Steps Proposition Verification Methodology X X Hands-on Lab Hands-onLab Preparation Pre Post Experimental Group Equivalent groups Conceptual model of the experimental methodology. Different Outcome? Control Group Y Yt 15.

  • Lab rig mimics industrial plant.
  • Liquid level control.
  • Interfaced with the PC through National Instrument USB DAQ.
  • Software interface is built with LabView.
  • Lab is taught for second year chemical engineering students.

Case Study - The Process Control Lab Process Control Hands-on Rig Tank Actuator Output Flow meter Rotameter Pump Software Interface DAQ 16. Case Study - The Process Control Lab 17.

  • Week 1 objectives are:
    • Calibration of the level sensor
    • Calibration of the control valve.
    • Hysteresis
  • Week 2 objectives are:
    • Develop understanding of feedback and manual and automatic control
    • Build qualitative grasp of the differences among P, PI, and PID controllers.

Case Study - The Process Control Lab 18. Case Study - The Process Control Lab 19. Case Study - The Process Control Lab 20. Software environment to support VARK model

  • Four sensory preferences: Visual, Aural, Read/write, Kinesthetic(VARK)
  • MS-Agent based speaking Help system
  • Video/Sound transmissionTelepresence


  • Laboratory was part of the Instrumentation and control course for second year students at the Chemical Engineering Department at Loughborough University
  • About 70 students in total.
  • 4 laboratory groups, each group performs the laboratory in two sessions spanned over two consequent weeks.
  • The students were distributed on the groups based on their GPA during their first year.
  • Students were asked to prepare for the lab using the lab manual.
  • There are six test rigs. Students work on groups of two or three students on each test rig.

Pedagogical Experimentation Activating The Prehension Dimension with Pre-Lab Session Virtual Lab in a Pre-Lab Session 22.

  • The third and fourth group students were asked to attend preparation session to prepare for the hands-on lab.
  • Preparation session used a virtual lab to mimic the hands-on lab.
  • About 60% of the third and fourth grou