Today's test environment is more challenging than ever as pressure on increasing quality and meeting time-to-market continue to increase. Therefore, a sound foundation in computer networking is critical for success in many kinds of computer-based work and universities must produce graduates with solid foundation in computers and their applications. One way to achieve this is through interactive learning and teaching through the use of software packages like LabVIEW (Virtual Instruments) and Java/Visual Basic (Object Oriented Programming). This will also allow the student to have greater interaction with the subject matter and improve his/her skills in the use of number of applied engineering software packages.
By Nikunja K Swain and Raghu Korrapati
The students' over reliance upon formulas and routine use of technique in problem solving too often lead to poor performance in advanced courses and a high attrition rate in the engineering, technology, and science programmes. The students' lack of comprehension of mathematical concepts results in wastage of time during laboratory experiments, misinterpretations of lab data and underachievement in standardised science and engineering tests that stress the fundamentals. This problem can be effectively addressed by improving the student's conceptual understanding and comprehension of the topics covered in introductory science and technology courses. One way to achieve this is through interactive learning and teaching and upgrading the existing laboratories with modern equipment. This will require increased funding and resources. But in recent years there is a decrease in resource allocation making it increasingly difficult to modernise the laboratories to provide adequate levels of laboratory and course work and universities are under pressure to look for alternative cost effective methods. One way to achieve this is through interactive learning and teaching through the use of software packages like LabVIEW (Virtual Instruments) and Java/Visual Basic (Object Oriented Programming).
LabVIEW and Java/Visual Basic are currently used in a number of engineering schools and industries for simulation and analysis. By introducing virtual instrumentation (LabVIEW) and object oriented programming (Java/Visual Basic) to the existing laboratory facilities and course(s) the students can be well trained with the latest design techniques and computer aided instrumentation, design and process control used throughout industry. This will also allow the students greater interaction with the subject matter and improve his/her skills in the use of number of applied engineering software packages.
LabVIEW is based on graphical programming and easy to use. It is an interactive problem-solving environment, where the students can analyse, visualise, and document real-world science and engineering problems. LabVIEW programmes are called Virtual Instruments (VI), and is different from text-based programming languages(such as Fortran, C++, Java and Visual Basic) in that LabVIEW uses a graphical programming languages, known as the G programming language, to create programmes relying on graphics symbols to describe programming actions. LabVIEW also provides an extensive library of virtual instruments and functions to help in programming. It also contains application specific libraries for data acquisition, GPIB and serial instrument control, data analysis, and file input/output with conventional programme debugging tools that can be used to set breakpoints, single-step through the programme, and animate the execution so that the flow of data can be observed.
LabVIEW has the potential of revolutionising engineering education. It is a graphical programming environment and is based on the concept of data flow programming. Data flow programming concept is different from the sequential nature of traditional programming languages, and it cuts down the design and development time of an application. It is widely accepted by industry, academia, and research laboratories around the world as a standard for data acquisition and instrument control software. Since LabVIEW is based on graphical programming, users can build VIs using software objects. With proper hardware these virtual instruments can be used for remote data acquisition, analysis, design and distributed control. The built-in library of LabVIEW has number of VIs that can be used to design and develop any system. LabVIEW can be used to address the needs of various courses in engineering, technology and science curriculum.
At South Carolina State University (SCSU), the PC and VI based system concept is used to design and develop a laboratory called Computer Based Virtual Engineering Laboratory (CBVEL). The CBVEL consists of IBM compatible computers with appropriate software and hardware from National Instruments (NI), Simulation software such as C++, Visual Basic, Java, PSPICE, etc., and is connected to School of Engineering Technology and Sciences (SETS) network and existing equipment. Virtual Instrument (VI) and Object Oriented Programming modules for different courses and research areas are currently developed and used to teach various courses. Examples of some of these VIs are Circuit Analysis, Electronics, Communications, Digital Signal processing, Networking, and Digital Filters.
The built-in library of LabVIEW has number of VIs that can be used to design and develop any system. LabVIEW can be used to address the needs of various courses in engineering, technology and science curriculum
Virtual laboratory or Virtual Instruments (VI) is software driven and does not require dedicated facility. It does not require instruments and there is no need for laboratory technicians. Problems of varying degree and complexity can be easily modeled and simulated using virtual instruments/laboratory concept.
Also, Virtual laboratory is cost effective and flexible. It is suitable for addressing student and faculty needs at a distance and as a result, more and more institutions are adding virtual laboratories to their curriculum.
Number System Conversion VI
The students of Information Technology (IT) deal with different computer application areas and frequently encounter binary, octal, and hexadecimal numbers. At times they have to convert a number in one system into another which requires not just the understanding of the principles behind number system conversions nut also, interactive modules to practice different conversions. A number of principles exist behind number system conversion and the interactive module using LabVIEW.
Outcomes of Using VI
The LabVIEW VI and Visual Basic modules, used by the authors under different situations, are user friendly and performed satisfactorily under various input conditions. It helped the students to understand items relating to IP Addressing in more detail. It also introduced the students to programme development using Visual Basic and Virtual Instruments. Therefore, it is believed that this introduction to Visual Basic and Virtual Instrument will help the students to design modules for other courses. These modules can be used in conjunction with other teaching aids to enhance student learning of Networking and the Internet.
The use of technology has been instrumental for student and faculty success. It has helped the faculty in instruction and has helped in students' understanding of concepts. The use of face-book, twitter and others has helped in peer based learning and social networks. It has enhanced the quality of engineers and revitalised education as whole and engineering education in particular. Academia needs inputs from industry for effective design of curriculum and laboratory. Academia also needs help from industry for student internships and student placement. Industrial Advisory Councils (IAC) are becoming part and parcel of every academic and accreditation bodies are making it a requirement to have IAC inputs in formulating programme objectives and outcomes.
Note: This work was funded in part by a grant from Bellcore.