Applying low-cost sensors to improve students’ blended learning experience during the pandemic


  • Hong Yang University of Reading



Blended learning, Low-cost sensor, Team-Based learning, Project-Based learning, Practical skills


The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to global education. In particular, the laboratory and field teaching has been heavily affected by the pandemic due to the implementation of lockdown and social distance. Schools and universities had to take urgent and necessary measures to transform traditional face-to-face education to online or blended mode. Most of the measures are concentrated on tool-based pedagogy, and instructors use nearly all available tools, primarily digital tools, for example, Zoom and MS Teams, to maintain the continuation of education. The online learning, through lecturing and supervising of some processes, can build up students’ theoretical aspect (knowledge), but students’ practical skills have been little developed. Given the advantage of the Internet-of-Things (IoT), low-cost sensors have been increasingly used for direct measurement without laboratory support, while their application in teaching and learning has been little explored. In this case study, a low-cost air quality sensor, PlumeLabs Flow 2, was applied in blended learning of undergraduate Environmental Science/Engineering programmes. With some lectures on environmental pollution knowledge, students studied in teams (Team-Based Learning) using low-cost sensors to measure air quality and developed projects (Project-Based Learning) to mitigate environmental pollution. Survey and interviews were conducted to understand students’ learning experience and identify suggestions for further improvement of this kind of blended learning. The survey and interviews indicate that more than 90% of students praised the positive effects of this new technology-enhanced learning, including improvements in skills and employability. Especially, students emphasized the advantage of learning knowledge and developing practical skills without relying on laboratory, which was very difficult or impossible during the pandemic. One of the concerns of low-cost sensors is the possible bias of the measurement data. Thanks to the rapid advance during the pandemic, online and blended learning will continue to develop in the post COVID-19 era. Using low-cost sensors will be an important approach to compensate for the lack of training of practical skills in blended and online education.