D. Sitzmann, D. Möller

Clausthal University of Technology (TUC) (GERMANY)
Today’s higher education in natural sciences and informatics is mostly affected by e-learning. In addition to the advantages of e-learning, e.g. learning independent of time and place, there are some disadvantages of pure online learning – learners sit alone in front of their own computers. As a possible result, learners are generally less motivated, quit courses more often and have problems in understanding the teaching matter what usually is a result of the lack of communication with other learners or teachers, unsuitable learning materials as well as the absence of the possibility of asking questions. These problems occur especially in natural sciences because the learning content is dominated by abstract, theoretic, complex contexts and mathematical models, which in general are more difficult to understand than normal texts. These challenges can be solved by several solution approaches: Blended learning (BL, a combination of face-to-face (F2F) classes and online learning through the internet), social software (“web 2.0”) to increase the communication and the extension of learning material by alternative representations of the content. For example, learning material in computer engineering consisting of many mathematical models and algorithms could be supplemented by various figures, animations and especially simulations visualizing the abstract meaning of formulas and help understanding them. Thus, this abstract presents the development of web based simulators in computer engineering education for the subject „embedded systems“.

In computer engineering education, it is necessary that students are able to deal with control systems (e.g. PID) and their mathematical representation, programming of hardware features and finite state automatons (FSA). Generally, for online learners it is easier to understand these complex contents if there are different representations of these topics. Hence, the following software simulators for supporting the e-learning (as a part of the education program “computer engineering online”) have been developed:

- VHDL Validator: Programming editor to model hardware modules using the hardware description language VHDL and to validate the source code by simulation.
- AutoSim: Visual editor to create FSA and simulate them by different tasks.
- Simulator for “tank control systems”: 1 to 3 tank control systems can be simulated by solving tasks. Changing of input data can be retraced by animation of the tanks, a value table and highlighted formula terms.
- PID-UFO: A Learning game in which learners have to “fly” manually a space ship and adjust an autopilot through PID controls.

All simulators are part of a web based learning platform and have been realized as web applications with the technologies JAVA, JSP, PHP, Python, MySQL, HTML5, CSS, JavaScript/Ajax/jQuery on an Apache/Tomcat web server. In terms of new approaches in e-learning the software tools support mobile learning (single-source-publishing with optimized layout templates for heterogeneous devices), platform independence through usage of standard web browsers and multilingualism by default.

This abstract showed the implementation of web based simulation tools. It was found that this can be a good enrichment for practical training within computer engineering education, because it helps online learners understanding the learning matter through the visualization of abstract and complex contexts like mathematic models.