“Online laboratories are necessary for distance or mobile learning for the same reason laboratory practices are important in traditional educational settings” reports Auer, Edwards and Zutin (2011: 229). They observe that although there appear to be general agreement that laboratory experience is necessary; there is little consensus about what the basic objectives thereof are. They further report (p. 223) that during the four years 1993 to 1997 only 6.5 per cent of the articles published in the Journal of Engineering Education used laboratory as keyword; and during the subsequent four years 1998 to 2002 even less, namely 5.2 per cent. Little has been published about what laboratory experience is expected to accomplish, with no specific objectives or outcomes stated.
Auer, Edwards and Zutin (2011: 222) assert that “synchronous active interaction with experiments and problem-solving helps individual or collaborative learners directly acquire applicable knowledge that can be used in practical situations, which is why pedagogical theory and practice considers laboratory experimentation an essential part of the educational process, particularly in the sciences and engineering”. Online access to remote laboratories through Internet is gaining importance. The domain of Online Engineering is an interdisciplinary field comprising engineering, computing and telematics catering for live interactive engineering activities such as “programming, design, control, observation, measuring, sensing, and maintenance” to both remote and localised users (p. 222).
Auer, Edwards and Zutin (2011: 224) differentiate three kinds of engineering laboratories:
- The development laboratory is used by practicing engineers to obtain experimental data in order to answer specific questions and/or to design and develop products. Furthermore to ascertain if a specific design performs as it is intended.
- The research laboratory serves to seek broader and new additions to knowledge to generalise and systemise.
- The educational or instructional laboratory serves to allow undergraduates to learn what they as graduates would be assumed to understand and know.
Web-based laboratories were introduced in 1996 by universities in undergraduate engineering education. The field of remote engineering since matured; the number of remote laboratories dramatically increased; and the range of disciplines in which remote laboratories used expanded. The need for remote access to experimentation and for flexibility with regard to time and place of laboratory access are powerful motivators — “Anytime and anyplace learning is presently revolutionising learning in the workplace” (p. 226). Developments of mobile technology further accelerated advancements.Auer, M.E.; Edwards, A & Zutin, D.G. 2011. Online laboratories in interactive mobile learning environments, pp. 119-248. In N Pachler, C Pimmer & J Seipold (Eds). 2011. Work-based Mobile Learning — concepts and cases. Oxford: Peter Lang.