An Evaluation in China and the UK of a Virtual Laboratory in Materials Science

Fang, Muzhen (2009). An Evaluation in China and the UK of a Virtual Laboratory in Materials Science. MPhil thesis The Open University.



This thesis describes the design, development and evaluation of virtual technology-based courseware—Virtual Laboratory in Materials Science used in a tension test that forms part of the course of “Properties of Materials” taught to most first year engineering undergraduates. The effectiveness of this specially developed courseware for virtual laboratory work was evaluated in a pretest—posttest comparative study of the performance of designated subjects between two treatment groups that worked with the courseware and two control groups that worked with a real testing machine. All participants were engineering students studying either with the United Kingdom Open University (UKOU) or with the China Radio & TV University system (CRTVUs).

The findings showed that most students enjoyed using the courseware because the simulated real experiment environment can make them feel personally on the scene. Among all the media used in the courseware, 3D and images were more favoured and more helpful to the students in terms of the usability of the courseware. Sounds were not seen as particularly helpful although some participants agreed sounds made the courseware more interesting.

The result of the research indicated that using the Virtual Laboratory in Materials Science could make a contribution to students’ understanding of the tensile testing. This evaluation clearly revealed that virtual reality (VR) and virtual environments (VE) technology can facilitate and support engineering course learning or even make learning fun. But when used at times when there were steps that need lots of manipulation, the virtual experiment still had some difficulties that need to be resolved. The research showed that the potential of the virtual testing courseware in promoting concept teaching needs to be tapped further.

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