Virtual laboratories in mainstream education

Even as staunch experimentalists disbelieve it, the use of information and communication technologies to do a laboratory experiment independent of a student's location is fast becoming a reality. In short, virtual reality technologies are revolutionizing the educational system.

Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is launching a series of workshops on their newly developed Virtual Labs. These labs were developed under the research grant from the National Mission on Education through ICT, Ministry of HRD. Amrita is a partner in the National Mission project on Virtual laboratories coordinated by IIT Delhi in partnership with 10 other institutes including IITs (Kanpur, Kharaghpur, Bombay, Madras, Roorkee, Guwahati), IIIT Hyderabad, NIT Suratkal, COE Pune and Dayalbagh University.

The objective of this national mission project is multi-faceted — to provide high quality personalized and interactive knowledge modules over the internet, intranet and through satellite communication to all the learners in higher education institutions in an anytime, anywhere mode. It is provided free of cost.

According to Dr P. Venkat Rangan, Vice Chancellor, Amrita University, faculty at these institutions would use these virtual laboratories in tandem with theory courses. Virtual Labs are powerful technological interventions that will allow all educational institutions and students equal access to real life laboratory experimentation.

Virtual labs are a fusion of creative engineering and objective conceptualization techniques to yield an interactive experience. Building a virtual lab involves systematically sequencing experimental steps using physics-based modeling and/or best procedural practices coupled with effective visualization in order to simulate reality. But the experience does not end there.

Varying parameters, observing the natural interactions in the same way as one would in a real lab, these virtual laboratories model actual behavior in close proximity. Professor Ranjan Bose, Department of Electrical Engineering, Virtual Labs Project Coordinator at IIT Delhi, says “What's new about the virtual labs is that it recreates not only the realistic output as in lab experiments, but they give the students an actual feel of the experiments too. It sits at the intersection of university laboratory practices, e-learning, and interactive environments. Any student can have access to an experiment via the internet, and that is what makes it unique.

Virtual Labs are the solution to the lack of access to expensive yet critical instruments for the purposes of scientific studies which is a significant challenge to geographically remote and economically constrained institutes.

This project endeavors to enthuse students to conduct experiments by arousing their curiosity, and provide an opportunity to learn both basic and advanced concepts through remote experimentation.

Laboratory equipments can be accessed online through a user-friendly graphical interface to execute experiments similar to those conducted in labs. The data collated from the experimentation can be recorded online, reviewed and graded by teachers located anywhere, anytime.

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