Giving students convenience and flexibility with remote labs

Recently, a friend shared a memory from his days as an EE undergrad at a university in the Rockies. It was 7:30 on a typical winter morning, his dorm and the EE building were on opposite corners of the campus, and measurement lab started at 8:00. Outside, it was -35° F and a 45-mph wind was stirring up ground blizzards. Out in the elements his eyes started watering immediately, and halfway to class the tears started freezing into icicles on his eyelashes.

It was a perfect day for the remote labs that are possible today. One example comes from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in China under the guidance of Jianquiang Lu, director of the National EE Experimental Teaching Demonstration Center. Lu is leading an effort to develop a three-pronged approach to remote teaching at HIT: generate student interest in EE using Flash technology, provide remote access to test equipment and labs, and enable professors to monitor student progress.

The interactive Flash courseware runs on student PCs and simulates the interface of an Keysight DSOX2004A oscilloscope. This gives students the flexibility to become familiar with instrument operation at their own convenience. It also frees up the real equipment available for hands-on use in the lab.

Once students complete this pre-study course, they can make remote measurements on networked DSOX2002A two-channel oscilloscopes. The roster of equipment used in the remote labs also includes 33220A function/arbitrary waveform generators and U1252A handheld digital multimeters. The instruments are connected to experiment kits based on seven labs that cover topics ranging from EE basics to circuit design. Each lab includes detailed documentation and specific measurements, helping students understand the technical basis of each topic.

Through the HIT campus network, students can book times for remote pre-study sessions or assigned experiments. The system automatically generates a report that tracks each student’s progress, and professors can access the system at any time to see how each student is doing.

Keysight sponsored 60 educator training kits (DSOX-EDK), which include lab guides, tutorials, and a slide set that professors and lab assistants can use for pre-lab lectures. Keysight also provided incremental funding and technical support during the development of the remote lab management system.

Using this novel approach, 1,200 HIT students completed their EE courses during 2013. As more networking and equipment resources are added, that number will surely increase—even during the long, cold winters in Harbin.

*Keysight Technologies Inc. was formerly Agilent Technologies' electronic measurement business.

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