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His “virtual” technology moves TCC electronics to the head of the class
~ Helps fulfill unmet industry need for LabVIEW developers; barely 200 in U.S. ~


NORFOLK, Va. – (Feb. 8, 2005) – An innovative faculty member at Tidewater Community College has not only created a software program to “virtualize” real-life experiments - he’s decided to give it away to educational institutions around the country.

Determined to mine the latest technology for better - and affordable - learning methods, Al Koon, electronic engineering technology (EET) program director, and other TCC professors worked together to bring “virtual instruments” to life for their students, producing realistic simulations.

Starting right at home, Koon is giving his software to Virginia Beach high schools - which means significant cost-savings for the school. The school district could use the software in its electronics and technology classes, serving hundreds of students a year.

Beyond that, in only a few weeks of making the software public, Koon has heard from schools in Pennsylvania and Florida.

Thanks to Koon’s software, students can now re-create experiments in a virtual setting, making in effect a “lab on a CD.” They can use electronics equipment through life-like simulation on the computer, setting up projects in class to take home.

With dials whirring and color-bar charts rising and falling like real-life barometers, the program allows students to calculate effects of changes they enter, explains Koon, a TCC professor since 1975. Indeed, homework, experiments and team projects have morphed to a portable lab that operates and measures results like real life.

Genesis of the program arose in state-of-the-art ATC labs using Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite, known as ELVIS - a group of virtual instruments donated by National Instruments. These include digital multimeters, oscilloscopes, function generators, digital readers and bode analyzers. The lab also has touch-sensitive white boards that interact with each lab-station computer screen.

To make the transition to a virtual lab, Koon used the LabVIEW operating system to write new software to integrate the technology into the classroom. This means students can change frequencies and other factors and see what happens, without expensive equipment in tow.

Now, with the software incorporated into LabVIEW’s app on Koon’s web page, educators from around the nation and the world can download it for free. In only a few weeks, Koon heard from schools in Florida and Pennsylvania as well as Virginia Beach.

{Koon’s web site information: - Note bottom “Software License”; go to “Program information,” then “Downloads,” then “labview runtime 7.1.” To download labview, computers may need set-up by an IT employee. For easier image, see photo below.}

“The more you play with something, the more you learn it - and this is especially true for today’s students who grow up playing on computers,” explains Koon. “The new software allows students to learn difficult EET principles through trial and error, and at the end of the program they can see if their thinking is correct.”

Today, more than 40 of 75 labs in TCC’s EET program use this virtual technology. In a course developed by associate professor Wayne Blythe, students are even creating a virtual weather station that measures the temperature, wind speed, rainfall, the UV index, pressure and other weather-related elements. The data will be transmitted through wires into the lab, processed by LabVIEW software and read by a connected computer. The information can then be sent through TCC’s closed-circuit TV monitors throughout the college, placed online on the TCC website or even used by a local weather station.

~ Only two schools in the world teach the LabVIEW developer curriculum, and TCC is one of them. In fact, with barely more than 200 LabVIEW developers in the nation’s workforce, TCC’s curriculum focuses on unmet industry needs. ~

“You don’t often think of a community college as a research facility, but at TCC we’re on the cutting edge of this technology,” Koon adds. “We’re excited to make this system available to local high schools, other institutions in the Virginia Community College System, and beyond.”



Students see this screen when they virtualize a weather project, left. Professor Al Koon works with students on hands-on equipment, right. “Virtual labs start with the real things,” he explains.





Laurie White
Media Relations

Tidewater Community College is the second largest of the 23 community colleges in the Commonwealth of Virginia, enrolling more than 35,000 students annually. The 37th largest in the nation’s 1,600 community-college network, TCC ranks among the 50 fastest-growing large community colleges. Founded in 1968 as a part of the Virginia Community College System, the college serves the South Hampton Roads region with campuses in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach as well as the TCC Jeanne and George Roper Performing Arts Center in the theater district in downtown Norfolk, the Visual Arts Center in Olde Towne Portsmouth and a regional Advanced Technology Center in Virginia Beach. Forty-four percent of the region’s residents attending a college or university in Virginia last fall were enrolled at TCC. For more information, visit