Refining Learning, Experimentation

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Prof SD AgasheProf SD Agashe, Principal Investigator, V-Labs Project, College of Engineering Pune (COEP), talks about the virtual labs at the institute and how they help in increasing the effectiveness of scientific research

Laboratory practice plays a crucial role in understanding a subject in engineering education. It has been observed that engineering students in many colleges lack hands-on experience. The reasons for this include nonavailability of adequate laboratory facility or equipment, non-functional equipment, lack of teaching/technical support, reduced hours for experimentation, and lack of expert support for correcting mistakes during experimentation etc.

In many engineering disciplines, the cost of the equipment/instruments is very high which prohibits the institutes from buying these facilities. The innovation in  laboratories comes only with freedom of failure, and analysis of experimental data. In today’s context, both the things are missing, resulting in fear of experimentation and failure instiin professional life. Another dimension to the dismal performance of students in the laboratories is fixed hours of experimentation and non-functioning of instruments. The number of teachers who have adequate knowledge of the technology and competency to pose challenges to students is another reason for reduced laboratory component and quality of experiments.

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The innovation in laboratories comes only with freedom of failure and analysis of experimental data

In contrast to this, many reputed institutes have good teachers with stateof- the-art laboratory facilities, good bandwidth, continuous support for up-gradation and maintenance of lab equipment, opportunities for applied research and consultancy, and industrial tie-ups. The utilisation of costly laboratory equipment is a concern for these institutes. The teachers are ready to support the weak students from other institutes, but physical distance prohibits this readiness.

The solution to this long pending problem is technology. Web-based experiments and online lectures will emerge as a lucrative solution. At the College of Engineering Pune, ICT Virtual Laboratories have been developed through the MHRD’s National Mission on Education. The pilot plants developed at the institute are industry standard and due care is taken for their safety. All the data related to the experiment is stored in the database and is shared with the student after the completion of the experiment. This ensures the post analysis of the results and helps in identifying weak areas  of learning. The support is available through webinars and a camera is attached along with a live mimic to view the status of the plant online. A dedicated line of National Knowledge Network (NKN) which guarantees a high speed of communication.

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