I. Tejado, E. Pérez, I. González, P. Merchán

University of Extremadura (SPAIN)
Industry is ever more demanding of graduates' qualification, values, practical knowledge and skills. In consequence, current degree programs address more explicitly the learning outcomes that their graduates should attain. To this respect, innovation in engineering education is expected to ensure that degree programs attract students and transform them into graduates who are well prepared for future engineering practice that allows exploiting new science and technology [1].

One method of supporting learning, which was a major curricular innovation and is now one of the most popular in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, is the use of interactive computer simulations. It has been widely demonstrated to be useful for students to acquire in a practical way the underlying theoretical knowledge in a more natural way than by carrying out only an analytical development. Likewise, interactive resources can also help to connect theory and practice in such disciplines in an easier way. Both issues are especially relevant in control engineering [2, 3], where this paper is framed. Nonetheless, as it is evident, these powerful tools involve several advantages but also drawbacks to be overcome both from technological and educational perspectives.

Given this scenario, educational innovation experiences activities are being carried out in the University of Extremadura and in the Spanish National University of Distance Education (UNED) to design, build, test and validate virtual and remote laboratories developed using the open source free authoring tool Easy Java(script) Simulations (EJS/EJsS) [4]. In this context, recently there exist two trends that have attracted the attention of educators that are involved in these experiences to integrate:
1) automatic evaluation [5], and
2) an environment to automate students’ experimentation tasks [6].

In an effort to share best practices, this paper provides a set of considerations on the use of interactive tools, mainly from the perspective of the teachers (usually, also lab designers), regarding the benefits and weaknesses of these resources in control engineering education, as well as the main educational competencies that are envisioned to be acquired by students.

[1] D. Apelian, “Innovations and Opportunities in Engineering Education,” The Bridge on Undergraduate Engineering Education, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 5–6, 2013.
[2] S. Dormido, “Control Learning: Present and Future,” Annual Reviews in Control, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 115–136, 2004.
[3] J.L. Guzmán, R. Costa-Castelló, S. Dormido, M. Berenguel, “An Interactive-Based Methodology to Support Control Education,” IEEE Control Systems Magazine, vol. 63, pp. 63–76, 2016.
[4] F. Esquembre, “Easy Java Simulations: A Software Tool to Create Scientific Simulations in Java,” Computer Physics Communications, vol. 156, pp. 199–204, 2004.
[5] I. Tejado, E. Pérez, I. González, P. Merchán, B. Vinagre, “Introducing Automatic Evaluation in Virtual Laboratories for Control Engineering at University of Extremadura. First Steps,” International Journal of Mathematics and Computers in Simulation, vol. 12, pp. 55-63, 2018.
[6] D. Galán, R. Heradio, L. de la Torre, S. Dormido, F. Esquembre, “Web experimentation on virtual and remote laboratories,” in Online Engineering & Internet of Things (M.E. Auer, D.G. Zutin eds.), pp. 205-219, New York: Springer, 2018.