Unconventional labs and education
The three kinds of laboratories in Indian engineering institutions are conventional labs, virtual labs and remote labs. In most engineering institutions the laboratory infrastructure is significantly underutilised due to factors such as security, timings and available working days.

Stated in the paper ‘A Distinctive Approach to Enhance the Utility of Laboratories in Indian Academia’ presented at the 2015 International Conference on Remote Engineering and Virtual Instrumentation, authors go on to explain how remote labs can be used to bring awareness about engineering technologies and software in rural schools and colleges in India.

Kalyan Ram B., co-author of the above paper and co-founder and CEO of Electrono Solutions Pvt Ltd, spoke at EFY’s Electronics Rocks 2014 conference on an innovative product named Remote Labs. Essentially a laboratory controlled over the Internet, it is designed exclusively for learning and monitoring any experiment integrated into the college lab. It can also be used by industries for monitoring electronics integrated with the lab.

DoCircuits, an online schematic editor

Another interesting tool is SPARKS (simulations for performance assessments that report on knowledge and skills) software—a virtual lab that targets the beginner side of engineering. It teaches introductory electronics via a virtual breadboard, components and test equipment. The tool monitors, records and interprets student performance. If a student makes a mistake, the computer will point it out; if a critical step was left out, the software will observe and report that too.

Another tool with similar functionality is Sakshat Virtual Labs started by Ministry of Human Resource and Development. The team states at their website that the objective of this lab is to perform virtual experiments in basic electronics and yet have a close-to-real-life experience. The tool is designed in such a way that students get a feel of a real lab, as its equipment, components and behaviour are mimicked by the system.

Virtual Labs and SOLVE
Virtual Labs initiative was set up with the primary objective of experiential learning of the basic concepts in engineering technology and science. It also aims to make the labs available at the learner’s time, pace and place with the aim to make it easier to conduct experiments. The virtual lab set up at NITK, Surathkal, is aptly named SOLVE, an acronym for students online lab for virtual experimentation. NITK, Surathkal, alone has 70,000 users from all over the world at its virtual website (solve.nitk.ac.in), including a few thousand from Pakistan.

While simulation based labs are set up based on a mathematical base, there are also experiment based labs where experiments are conducted and students are given a feel of the data.

Third type is the remote lab, where an actual lab is made available to users through any device connected through the Internet, iPhone, Android or PC.

“Essentially, we are providing a take-home lab where we share costly laboratory equipment through the remote lab infrastructure,” explains Dr K.V. Gangadharan, professor and head of mechanical engineering, NITK, Surathkal.

We have around 100 labs in simulation on the virtual lab website, of which 30 are remote-triggered labs. A remote-triggered lab is an actual experiment at one location to which students can make changes remotely as they interact with the experiment.

The virtual lab provides a complete learning management system, where working principles are taught and knowledge is imparted through textual and video education, which students can apply to their experiments. Various areas covered by these labs include FPGAs and basic electronics. For instance, IIT Delhi has a virtual wireless lab that gives students actual experiments to learn from and keep modifying antennae available to check propagation testing.

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