Università telematica internazionale UNINETTUNO

UbivisLabs

Global programme:
Specific programme:
Call:
Project number:
Duration: 121 Months (9/1/2012 - 8/31/2022)
Project Manager:
UNINETTUNO Scientific Leader: Livio Conti
UNINETTUNO Project Manager: Livio Conti
Website:


Introduction

In the teaching of technical and scientific disciplines, the experimental practice in laboratory constitutes an
invaluable tool. Unfortunately, often, the reduced budgets and the lack of instrumental and human
resources limit the experimental activities in laboratories in many classes of any degree, from primary and
high school up to university. Internet has stimulated the development of some networks of remote
laboratories that share instruments available at the participants’ sites. Nevertheless, these networks can
have trouble in connecting, require human assistance, and offer a limited number of experiential activities.
In this framework, we are trying a complementary solution, constituted by distributed low-cost labs, based
on mobile terminals. Smartphones, tablets, etc., include some physical sensors used for functionalities own
of the terminal, such as screen rotation, orientation of the device, geolocation, etc. In this framework, we
have developed a lab for mobile platforms that allows having a real portable laboratory. Our software
acquires measurements of physical quantities with the sensors - natively installed in each mobile terminal -
exactly as the instruments in traditional laboratories. In addition, the developed software allows on-line
statistical analysis of acquired data and the interactive connection with other remote devices in order to
share data and results between far users. The mobile laboratory has been specifically conceived for
teaching in e-learning courses of science, but can be used also in traditional teaching as well as in selflearning.
The project has been developed by a community of university students, with an open source
approach that maximizes further developments.

Summary

Laboratory activities are extremely important in learning processes, mainly in STEM fields, because allow
consolidating the knowledge acquired theoretically and students can verify directly - and in an independent
way - the laws studied and the rules learned. Experimental activities within the learning processes enable
cognitive reasoning (through symbolic-constructive and motor-perceptual mental processes) and foster
knowledge acquisition, as the motor-perceptual level enables a quicker and effortless learning that goes
beyond age, culture and background differences of the users. But, often, educational laboratories, as well
as computer-aid tasks in classroom, fail because labs are not available everywhere, must be booked in
advance, are not ready for suitable and immediate use, do not include all the instruments needed, etc. In
addition, many times lacking the essential equipment and infrastructures, as well as technicians needed to
arrange labs, manage the instrumentations and carry out the experiments. In many of these cases, the use
of virtual, remote and distributed educational laboratories can help in overcoming the difficulties and 
performing easily brilliant experiments. Already many applications of remote and virtual labs (ranging from
remote-controlled real laboratories to video-simulations and IVR (Immersive Virtual Reality)) are available
in artistic, medical and technical-scientific fields. Recently, the use of new advanced technologies in
educational laboratories is encouraging the development of new models of learning. Thanks to the large
availability of cheap mobile terminals (such as single-board computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.) and
Internet access, it is possible to carry out sophisticated experimental activities for educational purposes not
only in devoted traditional laboratories and in remote labs (trough internet connection) but even at home
and everywhere. This possibility opens unexplored and high-impact opportunities both for students
(including homebound disabled students) and for teachers (both in traditional and in distance learning).
With this perspective, the scepticism surrounding the use of smartphones in teaching can be overcame by
the enthusiasm of students and pupil and the improvement of their results in learning path. The paper will
present the laboratory infrastructure that we have developed based on mobile platforms such as
smartphones, tablets, pads, etc. in order to allow carrying out educational experiences even at home. Our
labs have been conceived with an “adaptive learning” approach (Kravcik, 2006; Bower, 2013) centred on
the concept of virtual laboratory education (Alexiuo et al., 2005). The interactivity in the laboratories
(Garito, 2015; Dalgarno et al., 2009) plays an important role in the design of learning environments
(Jacobson and Reimann, 2010; Trentin, 2015) and is essential for the assessment of the effectiveness of
didactic strategies. The developed laboratories are targeted to STEM students that will experience an
unconventional, stimulating learning process aimed at increasing their autonomy and getting them familiar
with basic experimental observations and measurement instruments. Our mobile laboratories are available
for students with no constraints in terms of time access, do not need of manned surveillance and are
immune from significant risk of hardware damaging. All of these features allow repeating and deepening
the experimental activities as much as the uses need, increasing the rate of use of labs, and the
effectiveness of the user experience. The approach of mobile labs is based both on the “learning by doing”
method (Kass, 1994) and on the “inquiry-based learning” approach (Fisher et al., 2007; Tóth, 2012).
Students are actively involved in the practical application of previously studied theories, avoiding the
problem of unused information and promoting the integration of theoretical and practical issues of his/her
knowledge. The opportunity of tackling errors in a risk-free environment is essential, as well as the
possibility of consolidating one's own knowledge. Moreover, the project of mobile labs aims at verifying the
effectiveness of mobile laboratories in heterogeneous populations of students. These studies can be
performed thanks to the opportunity (distinctive of the users of our mobile labs) of involving conspicuous
samples of students, belonging to diverse cultural, linguistic and social areas.

Description

Developed educational laboratories on smartphone are planned for students of STEM courses and cover:
physics, chemistry, computer science, elementary particles physics, telecommunications, astronomy,
electronics, etc. The experimental activities that can be performed range from full measurements
supervised by teachers/tutors to activities at home (HomeLabs). The laboratory is conceived in order to use
both apps already available on the market (often free) and a new app specially developed for the purpose
of our lab. The building of the labs has included the following steps:

- adaptation and contextualization of some laboratory activities that had been already built to the

educational and experimental needs of mobile labs;

- development of new laboratory experiments useful to complete the whole set of resources

available for the mobile labs project;

- development of a set of lab experiences to be carried out at home.

For our labs on smartphone, we have developed from scratch a new devoted application that includes
several features such as:
  • Measurements of single physical quantities;
  • Measurements of multiple physical quantities together with video recording;
  • Connection of the smartphone to other mobile devices during the execution of the labs activities in
order to share the monitor, data and remote control of the sensors;
  • Tools for data processing, data sharing, etc.
  • Providing info and instructions on the set of laboratory activities that can be executed with the
sensors available on each smartphone;
  • Providing questionnaires to the users in order to verify his knowledge on the executed activities;
For each of parameter that can be measured, the developed app allows:
-To plot (on line and off line) the acquired data vs time;
-To execute on line spectral analysis in amplitude and phase;
-To set up the acquisition parameters and the graphical parameter of the graphical representation;
-To store acquire data.
None of the apps available on the market includes all the features of the application developed for our lab.
By using our app, the users can perform many basic and advanced activities such as: acquiring data with the
sensors built in the smartphone; data processing; saving data; share the smartphone monitor during data
taking; share stored files; send data and graphs to teacher; etc. The data acquisition can be performed by
setting the variable parameters of the app and/or the features of the MEMS sensors available on the
smartphone such as: sampling frequency, accuracy, time window, etc. In particular, the physical
parameters that can be measured are: 3-axes acceleration, 3-axes angular acceleration, 3-axes magnetic
field, light intensity, difference of potential, resistance, etc. Moreover, smartphone can be uses as digital
signal generator, multimeter, power supply, etc. In some cases, such as for luxmeter, the developed app
includes a calibration procedure that allows calibrating the observations carried out by a single smartphone
on the basis of other measurements executed by another device (such as another smartphone or a
professional luxmeter). The user interface of developed app shows on the smartphone monitor the same
knobs, sliders and buttons of the traditional instruments, allowing the user to perform the measurement
activity as in a traditional lab with standard instruments. This can be of great help also for student with
reduced mobility.
To run the app, it is not necessary any specific knowledge in programming or in data acquisition. On the
other side, the source-code of the laboratory constitutes itself a laboratory of computer science and
programming. In fact, the project is based on an open-source approach that means the users can customize
the source code in order to improve the performances and tailoring the kernel and the user interface to
their needs. In fact, the source code that is released free to students is a basic environment for making
tests and exercises of programming. This open source approach allows developing and improving the
laboratory. For example, many extensions are possible in order to increase the connectivity of the app,
especially in order to manage wireless networks, via Bluetooth, for sharing the monitor and controlling the
smartphone by remote from another device (such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, etc.).
The app of our laboratory has been developed for Android, iOS and Windows Mobile that allows covering
almost the totality of the market of smartphone. This is a key point of our laboratory, because we can offer
to all the students the same laboratory platform, independently from the vendor and the OS of their
smartphones. This approach offers to the students participating to the project a special "gym" aimed at
testing and applying on the field their knowledge in the most popular programming languages for mobile
devices (such as Java, Objective-C, C#, Swift, etc.).
Finally, we highlight that our laboratory on smartphone implements a set of sensor nodes, according to the
Internet-of-Things paradigm. Furthermore, within the laboratory, a simple smartphone can be used also as:
an ADC board in order to acquire data from the available ports (e.g. audio, USB, etc.), or a programmable
Digital Signal Processing (DSP) unit. This simple design methodology, jointly with the availability of low cost
circuits (that can be used to implement expansions and preferable), opens new perspective to teaching
methodologies that encompass also the innovative possibility for students to perform experimental
activities even outside the university labs, whenever they want and with no limits in the number of
repetitions.
The comparison of executed measurements is facilitated by using the same app for all the students in the
classroom also with different smartphones. On the other side, the use of different apps can be interesting
form pedagogical point of view, because can allow increasing the consciousness of the scientific need to
compare the features of different deceives/sensors (precision, sensitivity, range, frequency, temporal
series, etc.). The comparison of data and methods constitutes also a great introduction to manage
statistical errors that represents another important advantage included in this approach of labs with
smartphones.

Objectives

The project aims at using smartphone sensors in order:
  • to develop a set of lab experiences, at different levels of complexity and tutoring assistance
(starting from supervised activities executed at distance - through the Internet - up to experiences
at home or everywhere);
  • to develop some assessment tools for evaluating the impact of the labs activities on the learning
process on a heterogeneous student population (with different levels of basic knowledge, starting
skills and psychological characteristics).
Furthermore, the project aims at evaluating the impact of the labs within the adopted e-learning platform
on the Uninettuno University. The labs activities have to be managed and supervised by tutors, through a
"Socratic" dialogue (where the so-called “cognitive scaffolding” principles are put into place in the learning
path (Fernandez, 2003 Meijer et al. 2006)), in order to constantly monitor (synchronously and
asynchronously) the performance of the learning process (Garito, 2015). The developed laboratory
activities must be: easy to understand, flexible, and customizable. The starting point for designing the
environment of labs learning has been the cognitivist and constructivist theories of learning (Vygotsky,
1978; Bruner, 1956). The student must have an active role (Michael, 2006) along a path of progressive and
procedural complexity and can easily interact with an environment built on theoretical and practical
knowledge (Garito, 2001). Mobile laboratories also offer the possibility to develop and support open and
flexible collaborative learning (Jara et al., 2009) where the active participation of the student is a main
requirement. In the design of mobile laboratories, particular attention has be given to (Garito et al., 2006):
a) Interactivity (that is a main requirement in the use of highly technological environments) by including
many features (such as “option to stop/pause/reset”, “smart scan”, “settings”, “calibration procedure”,
etc.) ; b) Intentionality, in order to reduce the complexity of the environment (In environments rich in
information, the user needs a reduced model of the result to be achieved in order to avoid getting lost in
hyperspace); c) Feedback (that is essential for all the intentional learning. The more a person knows, the
better s/he can use the feedback to collect and process more information.); d) Control: the learner must be
supervised. The labs gives to students the possibility to act at different levels of interactivity and to rely on
the leadership of professors/tutors who oversee the experiences and can communicate with students
through online communication tools, synchronous (e.g.: chats, virtual classrooms) and asynchronous (e.g.:
forums, wikis). This structure is at the basis of the architecture of the tutoring and evaluation system
designed for mobile labs aimed at controlling the entire learning process by correcting inappropriate
behaviour, evaluating student knowledge giving continuous feedbacks.

UNINETTUNO Role

The role of Uninettuno has been to develop and to update the UbivisLbas app; to support the students in the use
of the app during their learning process; to evaluate the impact of the app on the results and quality of the learning activities.
According with the "learning by doing" model, our app for labs on smartphone has been designed in order
to allow consulting the available multimedia resources step-by-step during the execution of measurements.
The student can effectively act when he feels to have acquired all the needed information on the topic.
Moreover, different tutoring tools are always available for students such as: instructions (including correct
answers); videos that shows the suggested procedure for the execution of the tasks assigned (in order to
avoid the students' moving away from the designed path) and tools for remote tutoring and collaborative
study. In fact, by using the functionality - available in the app of our mobile lab - that allows sharing the
smartphone’s monitor, a tutor can guide the students step-by-step during the experimental activities. The
presence of a guide, the Socratic dialogue adopted as a style of communication, and the ability to integrate
practice and learning constitute a powerful synergy that contributed to the creation of a pleasant,
attractive, constantly updated and fine-tuned environment for the student. The characteristics of the
laboratory is based on the experiential learning model (Pfeiffer and Jones, 1985; and Pfeiffer and Ballew,
1988) where the process is as important as the final result, allowing the student to reach, in controlled
situations, the different stages of learning: deal with a problem, do experience, communicate with others,
analyse the data of experience, make generalizations, and apply the results to other experiences. Finally,
the possibility to share the smartphone’s monitor with companions can help collaborative study between
students of the same classroom.
One of the features of the project that appears qualifying and innovative from the point of view of
research-action is also the evaluation phase, designed following a teacher/student relationship supported
by the introduction of intelligent tutoring systems. The evaluation system applied to the mobile laboratory
has been conceived according with the following three basic requirements (Garito, 1997): i) the
assessments must be continuous, with periodic checks (in order to give ongoing feedbacks both to teacher
and to learner and to ensure a rising in the quality and quantity of the concepts acquired); ii) the
assessments should be, as much as possible, interdisciplinary (in order to point out both the practical
implications of abstract concepts, and the applications of the theoretical models); iii) the assessments must
include some compulsory barriers (in order to drive the student to make efforts aimed at completing his
knowledge and maintaining a high quality standard of the educational process).
 
The use of smartphones allows developing low cost solutions for mobile educational laboratories. This is
possible thanks to the recent diffusion of smartphones equipped with MEMS sensors that provide many
instruments and tools (able to operate even simultaneously) such as: accelerometer, magnetometer, lux
meter, gyroscope, signal generator, oscilloscope, spectrum analyser, digital signal generator, multimeter
and power supply. With the smartphone-based laboratories, both temporal and spatial limits imposed by
the access to physical standard laboratories – both in presence and by remote - are overcame. Moreover,
students are not faced with risk of using complex or delicate laboratory instruments. The key-point of using
educational laboratory on smartphone is that to execute many experimental activities for learning-insituation
you don’t need of sophisticated instruments (with high accuracy, sensitivity or precision) neither
complex equipment with advanced performances. In many occasions, it is possible to carry good results
also with not so extreme equipment, but just with the MEMS sensors available on a smartphone. A mobile
laboratory cannot substitute a true lab and the vice versa. Simply many experiments can be carried out
with smartphone in an easier and quickly way. The numerous apps available on the market (many of them
free of charge) constitute a useful support for teaching, by providing in an easier way materials or solutions
to common questions. For example, in electronics, there are several applications to calculate resistors or to
help in managing colour code of resistors. The classical approach to use the same device and/or app for the
entire class can be overcame, by using a common app with the private devices of each student and/or
several different apps able to perform the same measurement. By using smartphones, the class can
become a lab of computer science just switching from paper and books to smartphone and apps, easily
decongesting the schedule of computer labs. We have developed a laboratory based on smartphone
consisting of an application available for the most diffused OS such as: Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
The laboratory - conceived mainly for STEM courses - is based on an open source approach developed by
students for students. The code of the application can be freely improved and constitutes itself a computer
science and ICT laboratory. These laboratory allow executing experimental activities everywhere, not just
and not only in traditional laboratory so changing the paradigm that students must work necessarily in
physical laboratory or can execute experiments only by remote. Now is the laboratory that goes to students
instead of vice versa. On the other hand, the possibility to execute experiments not necessary at school or
at the university, by at home and everywhere, represents a further step of the learning process, aimed at
increasing both the student’s autonomy and her/his learning rate.

Headquarter

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 39
00186 Roma - ITALIA
Tax code number: 97394340588
P.IVA: 13937651001

Certified mail

info@pec.uninettunouniversity.net

Student Secretariat

tel: +39 06 692076.70
tel: +39 06 692076.71
e-mail: info@uninettunouniversity.net

Videoconferencing

Library 1st floor: 90.147.90.157
Meeting Room 5th floor: 90.147.90.158

Do you need further information?

Give us your contact details


Ask for information