Strength of Materials Virtual Laboratory

Using a Virtual Gaming Environment in Strength of Materials: Increasing Access and Improving Learning Effectiveness


Introduction

This project improves the learning impact of and broadens the access to engineering laboratory materials for undergraduate students. Specifically, the project develops 3D virtual replicas of common engineering laboratory experiments. The researchers will build three such replicas in this exploratory project – focusing on course material from the Strength of Materials lab common to most engineering undergraduate programs.

The virtual laboratory improves learning impact in that students have a safer means to explore the experiments and can view the experimental equipment and setup in ways that are not possible in real-world laboratories. Additionally, students are free to repeat the experiments as many times as they want without consuming additional real-world materials or laboratory time costs. Further, the virtual laboratory allows students to make mistakes safely and learn from both successful and incorrect experiments; such “learning by exploring and via negative examples” is currently not feasible in real-world laboratories due to safety and time constraints.

Objectives

By creating a virtual simulation of the same testing scenarios that students witness in the laboratory, students will be given the chance to witness the experiments as they play out on the screen. The interface provides a number of benefits to students by increasing accessibility to the lab experiments (virtually unlimited); eliminating most lab testing material costs; providing more "hands on‟ experience in seeing the physical results of abstract data played out in a virtual animation; affording multiple scenarios and views of the materials tests that would otherwise be inaccessible to students in the lab as well as giving much needed unique and advanced experience to engineering students. This ensures a head start for students in the global engineering market, and makes available more financial and educational benefits and opportunities.

The objectives of this project are to use immersive 3D graphical simulations of engineering laboratory experiments to improve comprehension by enabling exploratory, user-centered learning, improve access to engineering laboratories, and reduce costs associated with actual engineering laboratories.

Significance

  1. Improved Learning
  2. Improved Access
  3. Reduction in Cost

Materials Developed

Watch a demo video showing the simulation and what it can do for your students.

Read the Quick Reference Guide for the Tension Test machine and the Quick Reference Guide for the Torsion Test machine.

The full software user manual is also available.

Run the full simulation/game (through the Web Browser).  Download this ZIP file, unZIP it's contents to your computer, and then double-click the HTML file to run the simulation in your browser.

Recent Work

In June of 2012, the researchers on this project hosted a one-day workshop co-located with the national ACEE conference in Texas.  At this conference, approximately 20 engineering professors from around the nation gathered to discuss engineering education, the strength of materials lab components, test the SoM virtual lab, and assess the quality of the SoM virtual lab developed.

We gathered qualitative and quantitiative feedback as a result of this workshop, and the workshop was useful in distributing and dessiminating the research work that had been done on the project to date.

As a result of this workshop and the feedback we received, we improved the software in the late summer and fall of 2012 and also developed a full user manual for people who wanted to work through the virtual lab in a step-by-step manner.  The improvements made centered around real-time feedback the users receive with step-by-step instructions that 'coach' them on what to do next in the simulation.

Future Directions

In the late spring of 2013, we will be conducting a full usability study on the SoM virtual lab.  This research component will be conducted by an external, 3rd party review team wherein the usability of the software will be assessed and a full, final report of the project will be generated.

Publications/Presentations Resulting from this Work


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1037715.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.