This paper describes a new program for teaching undergraduate laboratories in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania based on the idea that laboratories can be taught more efficiently, less expensively, and better through the use of World Wide Web-based technology. This technology is used to help the students prepare themselves before coming to the laboratory by becoming acquainted with the equipment, going through pre-lab exercises and taking pre-lab quizzes, both on the content of the work and on the safety considerations of the laboratory, all through web-based exercises.
We have shown that by using web-based teaching tools we can both improve the quality of an undergraduate laboratory while, at the same time, reducing costs. We have accomplished this by making a number of changes in the way laboratory courses are offered:
1. We are changing the way students prepare for laboratory periods by putting more information on the web, beginning the laboratories online before class.
2. We have instituted an institution-wide system of on-line grading.
3. We have shown that the costs of laboratory equipment can be dramatically reduced by using of special software on desktop computers to convert the computers into “virtual instruments”.
4. We have estimated the costs of teaching some of our laboratories using the so-called “ingredients method” of cost analysis and have shown that we are accomplishing substantial cost savings, up to 20%, in some cases.