Comparison of student learning in physical and simulated unit operations experiments

Theodore F. Wiesner, William Lan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Industries are tending toward computer-based simulation, monitoring, and control of processes. This trend suggests an opportunity to modernize engineering laboratory pedagogy to include computer experiments as well as tactile experiments. However, few studies report the impact of simulations upon student learning in engineering laboratories. We evaluated the impact of computer-simulated experiments upon student learning in a senior unit operations laboratory. We compared data on control and test groups from three sources: 1) a comprehensive exam over the course; 2) a questionnaire answered by students regarding how well the areas of ABET Engineering Criterion 3 (a-k) were met; and 3) oral presentations given by the students. Our results indicate that student learning is not adversely affected by introducing computer-based experiments. We therefore conclude that, while the tactile laboratory should remain in the engineering curriculum, the pedagogy can reflect the increasing use of information technology in the manufacturing industries without compromising student learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-204
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2004


  • Comparative learning
  • Laboratory instruction
  • Virtual laboratory


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