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The surrogate laboratory interactive video project

Tom Docherty and Harry Edgar
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Curtin University of Technology


One of the most costly components in engineering education is the provision of high technology equipment to undertake laboratory units. Large classes of the order of 100 students can be assembled for lectures on the theoretical aspects of engineering. Laboratory classes, however, must be small, due primarily to the limited supply of expensive equipment. This shortage of equipment results in small laboratory classes of about 16 students, necessitating costly duplication. Furthermore, students are unable to spend the amount of time on equipment required to provide an adequate level of competence.

This paper discusses the initial stages in the investigation and development of surrogate laboratory techniques using interactive videodisc technology. It is hoped that such techniques will help alleviate this problem. A Department of Employment and Education and Training (DEET) grant of $200,000 over a two year period (1990-91) has been obtained to conduct this investigation.

Project objectives

The project addresses a number of problems. These include a widely distributed student population, a shortage of educational skills in key subject areas, and inadequate funding for high capital cost equipment. There is insufficient time for student involvement with equipment, difficulty in providing individual feedback for large classes and inadequate provision for remediation.

Interactive video is a unique instructional and information system in which text, synthesised speech and music, still and full motion video are stored on a videodisc and controlled by a computer. The user is able to communicate interactively, through a touch screen or mouse, with the material stored on the videodisc, and is able to progress through material on the disc at his or her own pace. The system provides rapid access and immediate, accurate feedback making it a powerful and flexible tool for individual and group learning.

The advantages of interactive video include the following,

Surrogate laboratory

The surrogate laboratory technique is a means of using interactive video in such a way that the apparatus or measuring equipment to be used is simulated in a realistic manner, so that the users are hardly aware that they are not using and controlling real equipment.

In electronic and computer engineering, many of the basic measurements which must be made in the laboratory involve the measurement of variables such as voltage with respect to time. These time domain measurements involve instruments such as the cathode ray oscilloscope, which is one of the initial instruments used for the surrogate laboratory simulation. The frequency domain and the digital data domain will also be investigated by simulating instruments such as the spectrum analyser and the logic analyser. Training in the use of the oscilloscope will be carried out using a video replica of the instrument on the computer screen. Switch positions on the replica may be altered and control knobs turned using a mouse (or touch screen) resulting in a response of the appropriate sound and position of the real switch. The corresponding voltage time waveform appears on the screen of the replica oscilloscope.

Graphic overlay techniques are being used to superimpose the many permutations of switch positions and corresponding waveform traces on to the oscilloscope rather than use prerecorded still shots of the numerous permutations of switch positions. Work is in progress to develop a suitable algorithm to evaluate the required oscilloscope waveforms, consistent with the particular switch positions and variable input signals. Both free access and structured learning will be included in the operation of the equipment and will be fully supported by educational material, ensuring that the student is able to apply basic knowledge to fundamental measurement techniques.

The techniques used in this project differ from conventional interactive video in that the equipment is fully simulated and all the equipment portrayed is fully operable by the student, using surrogate techniques.

Feedback and audit system

The overall effect is that the student can be guided through all the operations necessary for mastery of the oscilloscope, with feedback at all stages as to his or her progress. An audit system is being included so that both the student and supervising staff member have a record of a student's progress and achievement throughout the training course.

Curriculum development

Initial steps in this direction have included making a video tape of a typical laboratory class session in which the oscilloscope was one of the main measuring instruments. Student difficulties and questions are being analysed and an initial strategy is under development for identifying the information which must be included on the disk.


The project will involve both formative and summative evaluation and will be designed to give the project team information of an ongoing nature that will help define characteristics of the client group as learners. Evaluation will also help specify appropriate knowledge and skills associated with the operation of the oscilloscope. A transfer investigation will be carried out to determine the types of knowledge and skills which are successfully transferred from the videodisc program to the real life situation.

Equipment selection

It is intended that the material for the disk will be developed in such a way that it can be easily ported to any equipment platform. In the initial stages the three platforms being considered are IBM, Apple and Commodore. An exhaustive study is currently in progress to determine the hardware and software available to develop the courseware for these three systems.

The Commodore Amiga computer has many attributes in its architectural design and readily available inexpensive peripherals which make it suitable for a low cost delivery system. Amigavision is a recently introduced authoring language which appears to have many useful attributes. IBM's PS/2 systems using the Audio Visual Connection (AVC) and M Motion video look interesting and are being further investigated. A suitable authoring language to work in conjunction with the above adaptor boards is being sought. The high end Apple Macintosh computers, being graphically oriented and having high resolution colour monitors, are eminently suitable for interactive video. Hypercard and Supercard are useful software packages, whilst Authorware Professional appears to be a suitable authoring language.


As has been stated, the project is in the early design stages, with the main effort so far being to make sure that the appropriate infrastructure and educational guidelines are in place. It is of primary importance that preoccupation with the technology does not dominate the project and that the videodisc team goals are based on sound educational foundations.

The research team working on the project has grown to include experts in curriculum development, educational evaluation, graphic design, media consultants and computer software specialists, in addition to engineers and scientists. It is evident that the success of such a project depends on good project management, good communication and a solid team approach.

Authors: Tom M. Docherty is a senior lecturer and Dr T. Harry Edgar is a lecturer, in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Curtin University of Technology.

Please cite as: Docherty, T. M. and Edgar, T. H. (1990). The surrogate laboratory interactive video project. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 117-120. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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