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Vernier Black Box

Page history last edited by iandoktor@... 10 years, 6 months ago

The Black Box


The cost of spending $15000 or $20000 on a complete set of Vernier equipment is often prohibitively expensive for small or medium sized high schools. As well, that only buys enough equipment for students to complete labs in groups of 3 or 4; still not the desired 1:1 ratio. Finally, time is still an issue.  Lab work must be completed in a set amount of time and the limits of equipment and scheduling make it all the more difficult. To provide schools with another option I have designed a black box suite to supplement the Vernier equipment. 



This is a combination of hardware and software that can turn a single Vernier sensor suite into a Virtual Laboratory.  Virtual Laboratories are being used with great success in many undergraduate science programs around the world (such as McGill and Oxford University to name a few).  The term Virtual Laboratory is used to define a wide range of equipment ranging from on-line simulations and simulacra to automated equipment which is operating remotely through the internet.  Some virtual laboratories are simply simulated learning environments, like the Virtual Laboratory operated by the University of Virginia. These types of laboratories are completely electronic with no equipment that students can physically see or touch.  Despite that they still have educational benefits and are used in many different ways.  A slightly more realistic lab experience is provided by the Chemistry department at Oxford University.  They have created on-line lab activities that use screen shots and videos in an attempt to provide students with a deeper sense of realism and connection to the lab work.



It is the second type of laboratory experience the Black Box is used to create. The Black Box will allow students to use the Vernier LabQuest and sensors remotely through the internet.  Students will no longer be required to by physically present at school to complete the lab.  They simply sign up for a time slot much in much the same way the schedule courses, but because the equipment is accessed virtually it can be accessed at any time, day or night.  A series of cameras, screen shots, and remote access to the  equipment preserves much of the real lab experience as possible.



By using the Black Box, an experiment can be set up and explained at the beginning of a class to ensure students retain a deep connection with the lab.  The lesson can then procede as normal and after school students sign up for time slots and complete the experiment, individually, from their home. Although the lab is done through the internet, it is important to realise that this is not merely a simulation.  The experiment is still completed and data gathered, it is simply done through through a proxy. Since the equipment is still at the school if they struggle with the laboratory procedure on-line or are confused by the web interface they are still able to access the equipment. However, for the majority of students who do not encounter difficulties, this frees up the time and equipment for other purposes. 


The main benefit of the Black Box is that schools no longer need to purchase tens of thousands of dollars of equipment from Vernier.  They can buy one set of probes and interface equipment for about $1000 and for an additional $500 buy the Black Box which will provide students with an almost identical experience at a fraction of the cost.  As well, it allows greater flexibility in the number and type of experiments which can be done in a single school year. 


Although there is no substitute for real hands on laboratory experiments, educators must constantly consider the available time and potential benefits.  For tens of thousands of dollars more, universities around the world are setting up their own Virtual Laboratories to take advantage of flexibility and cost-effectiveness of this technique. The Black Box allows a potent mix of experimentation and analysis without giving up instructional time.


Despite all these benefits there are a a few minor challenges facing wide spread integration of the Black Box into high school classes. To find out what those are, click here.



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