Remote Laboratories in the Training of Turbomachinery Engineering Students

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: When practicing their profession, engineers use their analytical and creative thinking to develop solutions for problems that require the application of scientific knowledge and experience in a dependable and sustainable way. Laboratory exercises represent an ideal scenario for engineering students to comprehend through the application in actual situations of fundamental concepts and to analyze, synthetize, and make judgments based on evidence. Furthermore, in case of group work, students collaborate on an assignment taking decisions and sharing responsibilities thus training their social skills.The use and development of information technology have in the past few decades increased at a very high pace and have had considerable effects on various domains of society, including education. Although distance learning has existed for a while, it is the widespread access to the Internet and familiarity of the current young generation with information technology that has led to the recent boom of interest in massive open online education (MOOC) as well as in various forms of blended learning.Laboratories in education are traditionally hands-on activities carried out on-campus by students with the assistance of an instructor. New laboratory environments such as virtual and remote laboratories have in the past decades been introduced in several disciplines to improve access to distant students, cut down costs, and reduce obsolescence of hands-on labs. Yet many are the doubts concerning their effectiveness in tackling the development of engineering skills, as well as their technical capability of being 24/7 worldwide accessible professional remote infrastructures. The present thesis work is concerned with the conceiving, implementation and evaluation of a set of remote laboratories to be used in the training of turbomachinery engineering students. The focus is put on three new remote laboratory exercises:a pump laboratory exercise focusing on the assessment of operation of pumpsa turbine cascade laboratory exercise focusing on the measurement of aerodynamic losses anda turbine cascade laboratory exercise focusing on the measurement of aeroelastic properties in a vibrating blade row.The laboratories are developed using state-of-the-art instrumentation and a design that allows for reusability of common hardware and software resources. Different technologies are explored for the remote operation of the equipment while laboratory exercises are constructed that include interactive learning material, online self-assessments, and tools for analysis of the experimental test data.Extensive field-testing within ongoing courses at the department proves an overall good technical performance of the remote laboratories. Accessibility is significantly improved with the use of new web technologies while integration in existing networks of remote laboratories and use of remote experiment management systems is perceived as necessary for future scaling up of the application.The concept of the remote laboratory exercises is critically evaluated and leads to changes in the structure of the exercises that improve development of certain laboratory skills and student’s perception of the remote experience. The same experimental setup is used to address different learning outcomes and, in turns, different target audiences showing the potential of significantly improving the economical sustainability of the labs, especially in the case these are integrated in courses at other universities.The generality of conclusions is partially validated by the involvement of external students, researchers and professional in energy technology in the testing of the remote laboratory exercises as part of collaborative initiatives that raise also the interest for a possible application of remote experimentation in research activity.Keywords: remote laboratory, distant education, engineering education, turbomachinery training