Replicating the live experience with interactive online labs, a physical model tests groundwater movement

Posted on January 12, 2021

For the Fall 2020 delivery of his Groundwater Engineering course, Associate Professor Kevin Mumford reached out to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s Teaching & Learning Team in order to adapt two of the necessary labs for online learning.

A third-year course in the Department of Civil Engineering, Groundwater Engineering relies on experiential work in the labs, which simulate groundwater flow. “People have an intuitive sense of how water flows because of their experience with lakes and rivers,” he said. “This lab uses a transparent physical model of the subsurface which allows students to measure flow, measure the water level in wells, and see the sand and gravel that groundwater flows through.”

“Labs like this are a way of opening up the subsurface,” he added, “connecting theory with observation.” Delivering this knowledge remotely provided a challenge, in that students were expected to hypothesize the depths and speeds of water as it traveled below the surface and then test those assumptions, revising their expectations in real time.

With the help of the Faculty teaching and learning team and two teaching assistants, Dr. Mumford made the online lab sessions as interactive as possible. Smaller groups of eight to ten students met virtually with the teaching assistants who, as a team, facilitated the conversations with GoPro cameras, providing an immersive experience with perspectives emulating those of students in a classroom setting.

This real-time interaction, with the physical model and two TA's to facilitate the conversation, was the next best thing to being there.