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Teaching Energy Storage Systems in Laboratories: Hands-on versus Simulated Experiments

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Background: Engineering courses often complement lectures with laboratory classes to optimise student learning outcomes and further develop valuable skills for future employment. Computer simulated experiments for conducting laboratory exercises have become increasingly popular in higher education and vocational training institutions to replace traditional hands-on laboratories. Reasons for this include for example, cost efficiency and repeatability. Research question: There has been a wide array of discussion on the efficacy of the two laboratory modes in teaching, both in general and for students in engineering fields (for example, chemical engineering or electrical engineering). However, many previous studies on this question did not reach a universally valid conclusion. The used methodologies mixed other influences with the impact of the investigated learning modes. These influences include for example accompanying lectures, experimental instructions, teachers, learning objectives, tests, working teams, and many more. Thus, the differences in results of these studies cannot be attributed to the laboratory mode only. The study conducted for this thesis investigated differences in learning outcomes of students in higher education when comparing two laboratory modes in the local domain: 1. In-person hands-on laboratories allow students to directly interact with the subject at hand, although this interaction might be mediated through technology or a user interface. 2. In-person simulated laboratories moderate all student interactions through a user interface. The properties of the investigated effect are simulated by computer software. The students work in a classroom equipped with computers on which the simulations are running. Since this study was focused solely on comparing different learning modes, all other aspects were held as constant as possible. Improvements that were theoretically possible in only one of the teaching methods (e.g. time-lapse in simulations) were not implemented in order to keep the surrounding conditions as equal as possible. Thus, the aim of the research was not to determine which of the investigated laboratory modes would be best for teaching a specific topic, but rather to investigate whether or not there are discernible differences in teaching success when conducting the same experiment in hands-on and simulated laboratories. The ultimate goal was to establish more reliable and generalisable insights into the influence of a particular laboratory mode on learning. The study did not include a remote laboratory condition; the comparison was only made between in-person laboratory teaching with proper laboratory equipment and simulations conducted in the local domain. An important note on demographics: a third of students at universities of applied sciences have completed apprenticeships in the German vocational education and training programs (VET) before enrolment. These VET programs mainly consist of practical on-the-job learning and aim to directly prepare apprentices for entering the job market. Due to the large size of this demographic and their previous experiences mostly with hands-on learning, it was of additional interest to see if VET-participants’ results differed significantly from those of their peers when confronted with the two laboratory modes. It was also of interest to see if the perception of the learning modes influenced the outcome. Methodology: This study was conducted in two consecutive phases on the example of a practical course teaching the basics of batteries (not related to physical manipulation of the batteries). A counterbalanced within-subject methodology was employed with German and international participants in nine study runs. The laboratory modes alternated, while the learning objectives and the experimental approach of laboratory exercises remained practically identical. In the first phase, the objective was to compare students’ learning success when working with hands-on laboratories and with overt computer simulations, respectively. The second phase was conceptualised to give insight into possible subjective influences of students’ perception of the two laboratory modes. In this phase, the simulation condition was hidden. Participants used hands-on equipment in both conditions. In the first condition, real measurements were shown; in the second condition, hands-on devices displayed simulated battery behaviour to investigate the influence of students’ perception. The participants were not aware of the differences in data sources. Besides the comparison of knowledge test results, questionnaires were employed to correlate prior, specifically technical, practical experience and previous apprenticeship training with the success of the knowledge transfer in both of the compared modes. Well-known personality tests were also employed in order to provide further insight into the subjects. The study collected subjective opinions regarding the laboratory modes in two ways: 1. Participants of the main study were asked to provide feedback after conducting a laboratory experiment. This method allowed for the indirect gathering of information about the difference in perception towards the two modes. 2. Persons who had either not yet started the laboratory or weren’t participating in the laboratory were asked to fill out a general questionnaire distributed amongst different universities in different countries. This method asked directly for subjective opinions regarding the learning modes. Finally, the THI university database was analysed to extract objective information about students with and without vocational training degree to gain broad background information about the compared groups. Outcomes: In the first phase, it was found that there were statistically significant differences in learning outcomes favouring the hands-on mode. When the simulation condition was overt, students with a background in vocational training before enrolment showed statistically significant trends towards better learning with hands-on experiments. Students in the international runs and Germans without a VET background performed similarly in both modes. In the second phase, when students were not aware that they were using simulations, both modes showed similar student learning across all student groups. Generally, simulations were reported as less relevant and their authenticity was called into question. A VET background seems to determine whether or not students had different levels of success in hands-on and simulated laboratories. As hidden differences in the simulations could be excluded from having been the reason for inferior learning results, psychological effects needed to be considered to comprehend the different laboratory modes’ effectiveness. The study outcomes lead to the conclusion that students’ personal perception of the laboratory modes, particular simulations, can have a significant impact on laboratory learning.
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Teaching Energy Storage Systems
in Laboratories:
Hands-on versus Simulated Experiments
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Fabian Steger
B. Sc. (UAS Regensburg, Germany)
M. Eng. (UAS Regensburg, Germany)
School of Engineering
College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths
RMIT University
in cooperation with
Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt
March 2020
Table of contents
List of figures ................................ vii
List of tables ................................. xi
Terminology and abbreviations ....................... xv
Abstract 1
1 Background 4
1.1 Statement of problem ......................... 5
1.2 Research questions .......................... 8
1.3 Thesis structure ............................ 10
2 Review on laboratory teaching and learning 11
2.1 The role of laboratories ........................ 11
2.2 The physical nature and location of laboratories ........... 14
2.3 Kinds of interaction with the experiment ............... 16
2.4 Mediation/User interfaces ....................... 16
2.5 Students’ perception of laboratory modes .............. 20
2.6 Success of different laboratory learning modes ............ 21
2.7 Influences on laboratory learning ................... 23
2.8 Assessment of laboratories ...................... 30
3 Review on the educational pathways of the study participants 34
3.1 Primary and secondary schooling ................... 35
3.2 Education and training in Germany .................. 36
3.3 VET-graduates in tertiary education ................. 38
3.4 VET: Social background and mobility ................ 39
3.5 VET: Wages and career perspectives ................. 41
4 Research approach and methods 42
4.1 Data sources .............................. 42
4.2 Laboratory learning using different learning modes (DS-A) ..... 44
4.3 Amount of Practical Experience (DS-B) ............... 58
4.4 Personality/RIASEC (DS-C) ..................... 60
4.5 Subjective opinions after conducting the experiments (DS-D) . . . . 65
4.6 Subjective opinions on the learning modes, general (DS-E) ..... 67
v
4.7 Objective data – THI university database (DS-F) ........... 70
4.8 Study runs and participants ...................... 72
4.9 Research ethics ............................ 79
5 Evidence and findings 81
5.1 Available data sources vs. study runs ................. 81
5.2 Laboratory learning using different learning modes (DS-A) ..... 83
5.3 Amount of Practical Experience (DS-B) ............... 101
5.4 Personality/RIASEC (DS-C) ..................... 122
5.5 Subjective opinions after conducting the experiments (DS-D) . . . . 131
5.6 Subjective opinions on the learning modes, general (DS-E) . . . . . 146
5.7 Objective data – THI university database (DS-F) ........... 165
6 Analysis and discussion 171
6.1 Identified aspects ........................... 172
6.2 Limitations .............................. 185
7 Conclusions and recommendations 190
7.1 Conclusions .............................. 190
7.2 Summary of contributions ...................... 197
8 Future work 200
9 References 207
A Publications 226
A.1 List of publications .......................... 226
A.2 Contributions to research publications ................ 228
B Aspects which were held identical in the compared modes (Summary) 239
C Research ethics – letter of approval 242
D Amount of Practical Experience, individual items (DS-B) 247
D.1 Item difficulties ............................ 247
D.2 Test performances ........................... 250
D.3 Superior learning mode ........................ 250
E RIASEC test set questions (DS-C) 253
E.1 Explorix ................................ 253
E.2 AIST ................................. 256
F Used devices and simulations 258
F.1 Hands-on lithium-ion cells ...................... 258
F.2 Custom-made hands-on devices ................... 261
F.3 Simulation model ........................... 272
vi
F.4 The client GUI ............................ 274
F.5 Quality checks/Reviews of the employed tools and simulations . . . 276
G Contents of the battery laboratory 277
G.1 The study program “B. Eng. Electric Mobility” ........... 277
G.2 The energy storages study module .................. 279
G.3 The energy storages laboratory .................... 280
G.4 Introductory meeting ......................... 282
G.5 Lesson A – Kelvin method, contact and insul. res., flash-over voltage 285
G.6 Lesson B – Open-circuit voltage curve (OCV) ............ 301
G.7 Lesson C1 – Internal resistance .................... 307
G.8 Lesson C2 – Power .......................... 315
G.9 Lesson D – Capacity and energy ................... 322
G.10 Simulation Workshop E – Matlab/Simulink ............. 330
H Testing the gained knowledge 339
H.1 Questions and tasks .......................... 339
H.2 Tests .................................. 358
I Statistical methods 362
I.1 Test for normal distribution ...................... 362
I.2 Statistical hypothesis testing ..................... 363
I.3 Testing scale reliability ........................ 367
I.4 Correlation .............................. 368
I.5 Studentisation / Z-variate ....................... 370
vii
Abstract
Background
Engineering courses often complement lectures with laboratory classes to optimise
student learning outcomes and further develop valuable skills for future employment.
Computer simulated experiments for conducting laboratory exercises have become
increasingly popular in higher education and vocational training institutions to re-
place traditional hands-on laboratories. Reasons for this include for example, cost
efficiency and repeatability.
Research question
There has been a wide array of discussion on the efficacy of the two laboratory modes
in teaching, both in general and for students in engineering fields (for example, chem-
ical engineering or electrical engineering). However, many previous studies on this
question did not reach a universally valid conclusion. The used methodologies mixed
other influences with the impact of the investigated learning modes. These influ-
ences include for example accompanying lectures, experimental instructions, teach-
ers, learning objectives, tests, working teams, and many more. Thus, the differences
in results of these studies cannot be attributed to the laboratory mode only.
The study conducted for this thesis investigated differences in learning outcomes
of students in higher education when comparing two laboratory modes in the local
domain:
In-person hands-on laboratories allow students to directly interact with the sub-
ject at hand, although this interaction might be mediated through technology
or a user interface.
In-person simulated laboratories moderate all student interactions through a
user interface. The properties of the investigated effect are simulated by com-
puter software. The students work in a classroom equipped with computers on
which the simulations are running.
Since this study was focused solely on comparing different learning modes, all other
aspects were held as constant as possible. Improvements that were theoretically pos-
sible in only one of the teaching methods (e.g. time-lapse in simulations) were not im-
plemented in order to keep the surrounding conditions as equal as possible. Thus, the
aim of the research was not to determine which of the investigated laboratory modes
1
Abstract
would be best for teaching a specific topic, but rather to investigate whether or not
there are discernible differences in teaching success when conducting the same ex-
periment in hands-on and simulated laboratories. The ultimate goal was to establish
more reliable and generalisable insights into the influence of a particular laboratory
mode on learning.
The study did not include a remote laboratory condition; the comparison was
only made between in-person laboratory teaching with proper laboratory equipment
and simulations conducted in the local domain. An important note on demographics:
a third of students at universities of applied sciences have completed apprenticeships
in the German vocational education and training programs (VET) before enrolment.
These VET programs mainly consist of practical on-the-job learning and aim to di-
rectly prepare apprentices for entering the job market. Due to the large size of this
demographic and their previous experiences mostly with hands-on learning, it was of
additional interest to see if VET-participants’ results differed significantly from those
of their peers when confronted with the two laboratory modes. It was also of interest
to see if the perception of the learning modes influenced the outcome.
Methodology
This study was conducted in two consecutive phases on the example of a practi-
cal course teaching the basics of batteries (not related to physical manipulation of
the batteries). A counterbalanced within-subject methodology was employed with
German and international participants in nine study runs. The laboratory modes al-
ternated, while the learning objectives and the experimental approach of laboratory
exercises remained practically identical.
In the first phase, the objective was to compare students’ learning success when
working with hands-on laboratories and with overt computer simulations, respec-
tively. The second phase was conceptualised to give insight into possible subjective
influences of students’ perception of the two laboratory modes. In this phase, the sim-
ulation condition was hidden. Participants used hands-on equipment in both condi-
tions. In the first condition, real measurements were shown; in the second condition,
hands-on devices displayed simulated battery behaviour to investigate the influence
of students’ perception. The participants were not aware of the differences in data
sources.
Besides the comparison of knowledge test results, questionnaires were employed
to correlate prior, specifically technical, practical experience and previous appren-
ticeship training with the success of the knowledge transfer in both of the compared
modes. Well-known personality tests were also employed in order to provide further
insight into the subjects.
The study collected subjective opinions regarding the laboratory modes in two
ways:
Participants of the main study were asked to provide feedback after conducting
a laboratory experiment. This method allowed for the indirect gathering of
2
Abstract
information about the difference in perception towards the two modes.
Persons who had either not yet started the laboratory or weren’t participating in
the laboratory were asked to fill out a general questionnaire distributed amongst
different universities in different countries. This method asked directly for
subjective opinions regarding the learning modes.
Finally, the THI university database was analysed to extract objective information
about students with and without vocational training degree to gain broad background
information about the compared groups.
Outcomes
In the first phase, it was found that there were statistically significant differences
in learning outcomes favouring the hands-on mode. When the simulation condi-
tion was overt, students with a background in vocational training before enrolment
showed statistically significant trends towards better learning with hands-on experi-
ments. Students in the international runs and Germans without a VET background
performed similarly in both modes.
In the second phase, when students were not aware that they were using simula-
tions, both modes showed similar student learning across all student groups.
Generally, simulations were reported as less relevant and their authenticity was
called into question.
A VET background seems to determine whether or not students had different
levels of success in hands-on and simulated laboratories. As hidden differences in
the simulations could be excluded from having been the reason for inferior learning
results, psychological effects needed to be considered to comprehend the different
laboratory modes’ effectiveness.
The study outcomes lead to the conclusion that students’ personal perception of
the laboratory modes, particular simulations, can have a significant impact on labo-
ratory learning.
3
The full text of the thesis is available using the
RMIT research repository:
http://researchrepository.rmit.edu.au
direct link (2021):
https://researchrepository.rmit.edu.au/esploro/outputs/doctoral/
Teaching-energy-storage-systems-in-laboratories/9922023729701341
Chapter 9
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