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USE OF SIMULATION TOOLS AS VIRTUAL LABORATORIES FOR TEACHING IN MATERIALS ENGINEERING

R. Balart, L. Sánchez-Nácher, D. García-Sanoguera, O. Fenollar

Universidad Politecnica de Valencia (SPAIN)
Teaching in mechanical and materials engineering is characterized by the use of different materials’ tests to obtain some materials parameters which are useful for engineering design and calculation. These characterization tests have to be carried out in the corresponding equipments which are, in most cases, really expensive. As university financing is limited, departments have to manage in an appropriate way the funds in order to optimize the student training. By taking this into account, we have some restrictions on the use of advanced and technological equipment for materials engineering teaching; also, laboratory groups are large and, in many cases, only one equipment is available for teaching tasks, so the student can only observe the evolution of the test in terms of parameters, materials and equipment. In order to improve teaching quality of practical classes (laboratory) we have developed several multimedia tools that can be used as virtual laboratories (VLs). A virtual laboratory is a programmed multimedia tool that represents some physical, mechanical, thermal, chemical… process. The main restriction of these virtual laboratories is that they have to be programmed in accordance to the process that they represent. In this case, the virtual laboratory can be accessed by the student via on-line platforms (or off-line versions) to work with the simulation tool. The student can change parameters and evaluate the effect of these changes. This allows a remarkable change in the student role in the teaching-learning process. Traditional methods based on observation of material tests involve a passive role while these new multimedia methods based on the use of virtual laboratories allow an active role so the overall results of the teaching-learning process are better. These virtual laboratories are not only useful as substitutes of expensive equipment; they can also be useful to study complex processes with many variables. So, with this purpose, we have developed a virtual laboratory which is focused on the study of diffusion in solids. The student can interact with the VL by changing all possible parameters; after a calculation process, the student can evaluate the effects of his changes and it can use this tool to optimize problems at industrial level. Another use of the virtual laboratories is to serve the students as guides or tutorials for teaching-learning tasks. Materials science is characterized by high technological content and some concepts are difficult to understand, so the use of virtual laboratories could have a positive effect on the learning process. Regarding this use of the VLs, we have developed a simulation tool for phase diagram construction and representation. The student can define and change the parameters regarding different isothermal transformations (eutectic, peritectic, solid solution…) and the VL guides the student in the complex process of construction; so that, the virtual laboratory allows an active role for the student and this has a positive effect on the overall teaching-learning process.