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Online College Physics Lab

  1. Jan 20, 2017 #1
    Is there any software, free or commercial, which students can use
    to perform physics lab experiments online?
    I'm looking for a software for college physics, say, from Linear motion, motion under gravity, Newton's laws, Energy, momentum, Rotational dynamics, to Heat and Thermodynamics.

    CD or DVD based software are usually for demo not for experiment.
    Any suggestion will be appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2017 #2

    vela

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  4. Jan 20, 2017 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I would say these simulations are not "physics labs". At best, they are simulations of physics labs. But a simulation is not the real thing, and you don't have the same experience as actually doing a lab.
     
  5. Jan 22, 2017 #4
    I agree with Vanadium. The better distance learning physics courses do not do "online" labs with simulations, but rather provide means for doing real physics experiments with a combination of common household objects, inexpensive things from common stores, and a modest investment in a required "lab kit."

    Experimental science requires a real experiment in the real (not virtual) physical world.

    Some new technologies have made that easier to do accurately without specialized equipment. For example, many cell phones now have accelerometers, and the ubiquitous video cameras can be combined with software tools like Tracker (automated motion tracking) for a number of real world physics experiments in introductory courses.
     
  6. Jan 22, 2017 #5
    Of course a software physics lab is not the same as a real physics lab. However I think a good software lab is still very useful. But I would call them simulators or virtual labs just to make clear it's not a substitute for actual experiments.

    You can use virtual labs to study many more setups than you could in school. This includes some experiments you would not be able to do in school, such as hazardous experiments.

    You can also use virtual labs to prepare for actual experiments. When I was in high school or even as an undergrad, in a typical physics lab we would spend half the time figuring out what this experiment was all about and how to set it up. Sometimes a group had problems with their setup, perhaps because of technical problems. If they were lucky, with the help of the instructor they might get everything working near the end of the lab period, but then did not have time to run the experiment. I think it would have been better to rehearse the experiment several times, using a virtual lab.
     
  7. Jan 22, 2017 #6

    symbolipoint

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    David Reeves wrote this:
    The purpose of the laboratory, the REAL laboratory, is to deal with those problems that you just described. Learning to deal with those is not something that can be done with a simulation or any kind of "virtual lab".
     
  8. Jan 22, 2017 #7
    I agree somewhat with the second sentence, but not with the first.

    What is the purpose of the "real laboratory?" It depends on what kind of lab we are talking about.

    As I stated, I do not say the student's real lab should be replaced by the virtual lab. It is a supplement, which should help make the real lab all the more valuable.

    As for the "real lab" student experiment, it is not the same as a real-world experiment which is being carried out to discover new physics. It is an teaching experiment. A teaching experiment has a specific teaching goal, and a very limited time period in which to achieve that goal. I am talking about simple experiments in which we know what the outcome will be, not higher level lab work in which an advanced student, such as a graduate student, is working on a new experiment. There should be no surprises in the student experiment.

    The purpose of a teaching experiment should not be to give experience in the failure that results from sloppy preparation or malfunctioning equipment. It should be to teach the right way to set up and perform an experiment. Of course it is also to teach the experimental basis for a physics theory, so it is understood where physics actually comes from. A sloppy approach to a teaching experiment makes a mockery of the whole process. It sets a bad example. It demoralizes students, who see that the process is not being taken seriously.

    The lab should be very carefully prepared by the instructor. Equipment should be checked, so that malfunctions are very unlikely. Malfunctions should be rare, not the norm. The very limited lab time should not be wasted in debugging a bad setup. Also students should be prepared. They should know what is the purpose of the lab, what is the setup, what the process will be, and so on.

    If I had to choose between having virtual labs only, or real labs only, of course I would choose real labs. In fact, I would add more real lab time. Meanwhile, I am only saying that virtual labs can help students make the most of the limited lab time they do have. Also, as I already stated, the virtual labs have other advantages as supplements to real labs. So ideally we should have both.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2017
  9. Jan 22, 2017 #8

    vela

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    To be fair, in my experience, the inefficient use of limited class time occurs most often because the students read the lab for the first time after getting to class.
     
  10. Jan 22, 2017 #9
    I don't doubt that at all. The students are responsible for a bad lab experience to the extent they fail to prepare.

    In any case, I think we have not answered the original question very well.

    :frown:
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2017
  11. Jan 23, 2017 #10

    symbolipoint

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    This was done by design in some classes. It made the lab class section more frustrating.
     
  12. Jan 23, 2017 #11

    ZapperZ

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    I use virtual labs as a teaching aide, rather than a substitute for in-class experiment. This is especially useful for a blended course, where part of the lesson is done online. I've used many PhET virtual labs, and the ones that I found most effective is the one that will test their knowledge of what we did in class. The one I liked the most, and the ones that my students found to be useful was the Lenz/Faraday's law demo. I give them a set of things to perform, and they have to record what they observe. And then, they have to apply Lenz/Faraday's law to provide an explanation.

    Interestingly enough, I've also previously designed a similar in-class experiment using a solenoid connected to a galvanometer. The students then use bar magnets to do the exact same thing that can be done in this virtual lab.

    Zz.
     
  13. Jan 25, 2017 #12
    I like labs used this way, but I prefer to think of them as active illustrations for kinesthetic and visual learners rather than real labs. It's exploring the simulated results of the theory rather than testing the theory with an experiment.
     
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