Going the way of the slide rule: Can remote laboratories fungibly replace the in-person experience?
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The slide rule is an important part of the heritage of the engineering discipline, but it was ultimately replaced as the new technology of calculators overtook it. Since this scenario is potentially repeating itself now with the introduction of remote laboratory classes in engineering, it is useful to compare the current situation of hands-on versus remote laboratories with the case history of slide rule replacement by calculators. Hands-on laboratories form a core part of the education of the current generation of engineers; this paper explores whether it is possible for remote laboratories to replace them. Remote laboratories are laboratories where students conduct experiments on real, physical equipment, but the students are not physically co-located with the equipment. The key factor is the fungibility of the learning outcomes that laboratories provide—whether the remote experience can achieve all or the most important of the things that the in-person-experience can. The slide rule became obsolete because new technology could achieve the most important of its outcomes, but quicker, easier and cheaper. An analysis of remote laboratories shows that many learning outcomes are able to be achieved more easily and more cheaply in the remote mode, and additional learning outcomes are also possible, with only a small number of non-fungible outcomes preventing remote laboratories replacing the face-to-face experience.
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