"If you can't come to the lab, the lab will come to you," said Jesus del Alamo, co-principal investigator on the Africa project and a professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
In 1998 del Alamo introduced a way for students to test and probe fragile microelectronic devices over the Internet from dorm rooms and other convenient locations 24 hours a day. The success of that venture, dubbed the Microelectronics WebLab, spawned the iLab initiative at MIT to advance the concept to other engineering disciplines. ILab was embraced and funded by MIT iCampus, a program sponsored by the Microsoft Corporation. There are now five remotely accessible labs, ranging from a heat exchanger to a shake table for earthquake engineering.
The iLabs have been used by students at MIT and from universities in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Sweden, Greece, and Taiwan. Now students at three African universities will be able to do the same, thanks to a partnership between MIT's Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI), Makerere University (Uganda), the University of Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), and Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria).
New iLabs will be selected and developed by the African partners in collaboration with MIT. In addition, MIT faculty will work closely with their African colleagues to introduce new laboratory experiences and develop new content in several graduate and undergraduate courses in fields ranging from electrical engineering to physics.
"These additions to the curriculum will directly impact the education of hundreds of students," said MIT's del Alamo. "The project is likely to have multiplicative effects that will add to its impact. This may come in the form of revamped curricula, students acquiring unique software engineering skills, and the broader use of computers by students and teaching staff in engineering education."
The project also includes a cultural-exchange component. MIT will send six undergraduate or graduate students to the three African universities to join their respective iLab development teams and support their efforts. The African universities will each send two graduate students or staff members to MIT to join MIT's own iLab effort and learn iLab technology along the way. The visits are scheduled to last about two months.
Professor Steven Lerman, director of MIT's CECI program and co-principal investigator of the Africa project, said: "Carnegie Corporation recognized the potential for bringing leading African institutions together with MIT. We are delighted that this is a real partnership--institutions in developed and developing countries will work together and learn from each other."
Lerman adds, "We are grateful to Carnegie Corporation for its support and for the opportunity their funding provides for sharing knowledge between MIT and our African colleagues. We hope this project will spread among African institutions so that more students can perform real experiments and enhance their science and engineering education."
Professor L.O. Kehinde, coordinator of the iLab project at Obafemi Awolowo University said, "With the dearth of funds for the purchase of equipment for experimentation, the iLab project is an important intervention for African universities. Not only will it afford better access by more students to relevant experiments, it certainly will also result in human and infrastructural development in partner African universities. In addition to enhancing their skills in iLab-related software and hardware development, the cross-cultural values of the collaboration between African universities and MIT are immense. The dedication and the cooperation of the iLab coordinators at MIT have been remarkable."
iLabs is an initiative of the MIT iCampus program, which is funded by Microsoft Corporation. iCampus sponsors faculty innovations in educational technology, helps incubate them through classroom use, and promotes their adoption, evaluation, and continued evolution through worldwide multi-institutional cooperation (http://icampus.
To try one of the labs, go to http://openilabs.