The Effectiveness of Learning Simulations for Electronics Laboratories

J. Olin Campbell
Brigham Young University

John R. Bourne
Vanderbilt University

Pieter J. Mosterman
DLR Oberpfaffenhofen

Arthur J. Brodersen
Vanderbilt University


This work investigates the extent to which a software simulation of electronic circuits labs can support beginning electrical engineering students. Experiment 1 was a formative evaluation of use of an Electronic Laboratory Simulator (ELS) as an optional add-on to physical labs for 120 subjects at four universities. All subjects received the same treatment, which included their normal classes and physical labs, with optional use of simulated labs. Subjects took written tests that were specific to the lab's content, before and after using each simulated lab. Only subjects who took both pre- and posttests were included. Pre- and posttest comparisons indicated significant improvement in both theory and lab knowledge when scores for all labs were combined, but inconsistent performance on individual labs. As the treatment included other learning opportunities in addition to simulated labs, the results were not attributed to the simulations, but did yield initial indications and qualitative data on subjects' experiences. These helped to improve the labs and the implementation strategies. Experiment 2 used 40 college sophomores in a beginning electronic circuits lab. Physical lab subjects received seven physical labs. Combined lab subjects received a combination of seven simulated labs and two physical labs. The latter repeated two of the simulated labs, to provide physical lab practice. Both treatments used the same assignments. Learner outcome measures were (a) time required to complete a criterion physical lab, (b) score on written lab and theory tests over all the labs, and (c) comments on the lab experience. The group that used combined simulated and physical labs performed significantly better on the written tests than the group using entirely physical labs. Both groups were equivalent in time to complete the criterion physical lab. Comments about the simulated labs were generally positive, and also provided specific suggestions for changes.

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