ADOPTION OF VIRTUAL LABORATORIES FOR COMPUTER SCIENCE: DETERRENTS, ENABLERS AND MODALITIES
, K. Seshadri 2
1National Institute of Technology Tiruchirappalli (INDIA)
2National Institute of Technology Andhra Pradesh (INDIA)
If you do not come to the labs, the labs will come to you - this is a quote attributed to J. A. D. Alamo of MIT, USA. This perhaps may be the need of the hour in many educational institutes offering higher degrees in science and engineering. Interpreted in a broad sense, for developing countries a natural reaction is the cost to take laboratory work to students’ homes distributed across a geographical region viz., understanding whether the infrastructure facilities (mainly hardware and internet access) are diverted as required, whether technical manpower is geared up to the challenges and whether these are within the reach of every student in a typical college or university.
We note that some major management concerns are the following:
• Powers to setup and control access to software and hardware and permit administrative privileges, powers to setup a remote laboratory.
• Powers to recruit technical staff members and define/redefine roles, responsibilities, duties.
• Powers to secure and allocate funds to maintain a balance.
• Powers to interact with higher authorities in governance and other bodies.
While these concerns are meant for policy-decision makers and maybe law makers, more pressing-issues such as utilization of resources and success of a remote laboratory (for example, the organization of a laboratory, content delivery, consolidation of knowledge) are determined primarily by teachers and heads of departments or schools.
It is suggested in that integrating remote laboratories (or web labs or distributed learning labs) along with the process of teaching-learning activities can produce better results and outcomes for the students. Exercises in planning and developing execution related themes in building remote laboratory courses for Computer Science (CS) programs can be understood in many ways. An important concern is to first consider the following educational objectives for laboratory learning – we quote the following, applicable to CS, as suggested by program accreditation bodies:
• Ability of the lab exercises to assist students in comprehending and reinforcing the concepts learnt during lectures.
• Ability of the lab exercises to develop higher order thinking skills in students.
• Ability of the lab work to motivate students to engage in teamwork and collaboration while undertaking shared tasks.
• Ability of the lab work in imparting employability skills.
Following are some notable observations regarding CS labs:
• CS attracts highly ranked students and therefore students have high expectations.
• Simulators can help CS labs to a major extent unlike other branches of Science and Engineering.
• Web resources supplementing labs are numerous and can cause information explosion.
Considering the unique requirements for CS labs and the remote learning imposed on institutions by the pandemic, this paper discusses the potential factors impacting the adoption of virtual laboratories for Computer Science. This discussion is especially relevant to branches of Engineering like Computer Science in which students typically learn only through practice in Laboratories. We outline succinct pointers and case studies involving specific courses of study in Computer Science that may be considered as broad guidelines by Computer Science Departments while transitioning laboratories from offline to online.