Applications

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

– Will Durant

Chapter Contents

16.1    Introduction

16.2    Electrical, Electronics and Industrial Automation Engineering

16.3    Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

16.4    Chemical and Process Engineering

16.5    Information Technology (IT) and Computer Engineering

16.6    Nuclear Engineering

16.7    Civil Engineering

16.8    Mining Engineering

16.9    Miscellaneous

16.1  Introduction

The following examples relate to an overall application of online engineering education and training (as opposed to only one facet such as remote labs or web conferencing).

It is broken down into the main sections outlined in the list above, ranging from electrical through nuclear engineering to mining engineering, without distinction as to level of course or whether it is a private provider, corporate, vocational or higher education. Note that the categories are not tightly defined, hence you will find overlap between the different disciplines in the discussions below.

16.2  Electrical, Electronics and Industrial Automation Engineering

A Digital Signal Processing Laboratory using the Moodle Learning Management System

Due to concerns about copying of experimental results from one student group in one year to a subsequent year, an innovative approach at the University of Saskatchewan was constructed using a Learning Management System, Moodle, as the primary tool.1 This approach could also be effective in providing tests and assignments to students scattered around the world undertaking an assignment or test at different times and where there is some risk of cheating. The course was to introduce students to the basics of using a DSP processor chip and its associated interface hardware. Typical laboratories included implementing a Finite Impulse Response (FIR) filter, demonstrating how hardware interrupts and interrupt service routines work and designing and debugging a DSP assembly program. Each of the four DSP laboratory modules is divided into the following sections:

• Objectives and learning topics.

• Materials required.

• Introductory information on tackling the lab.

• Specific tasks that need to be performed with questions (and a 10% penalty for each incorrect answer).

• Upload code to website for marking.

The first four items are implemented in Moodle (using the “lesson” structure). A “lesson” comprises a number of pages, with each page ending with a question and a number of possible answers, which the student has to get right before they are allowed to progress. The specific tasks are implemented as a Moodle quiz. The uploading of code is performed as a Moodle Assignment.

The quiz module within Moodle can be used to generate various question types such as multiple choice, short answer, numerical, true-false, matching, embedding answers, random short-answer matching, calculated questions and essay. These quiz questions are placed in a database, creating a pool of questions which can be re-used. The feedback from students was generally positive, although some students were unhappy with being unable to review the task questions after they had been answered and not being immediately advised of whether their answers to questions were correct or not. Due to only 25% of the questions being individualized, it wasn’t possible for the answers to be provided to the student. However, changes were made to advise students of their success or otherwise and to allow them to resubmit answers (but being penalized by 10% of the mark).

Classroom-based Lectures with Online Engineering Labs

A remote laboratory (based initially on a servomechanism) was used by the instructor to perform live demonstrations in front of the class during the lectures.2 This made it easier to demonstrate (typically in about 5 minutes) live experiments without the disruption of the students leaving the classroom to go to a laboratory. The architecture comprised a client server with the local server directly connected to the physical equipment and process. A video camera and microphone were also connected to the server to give some more realistic feedback. The software used was LabVIEW using Virtual Instruments (VI) as the individual components. The client area was broken up into four areas: a scope area for displaying the time relationships of all signals, a visual area comprising a video with virtual markers superimposed on the real image, a parameters area for making adjustments to the process (such as step change output, controller gain, integral and derivative time constants) and an administrative area for log in.

There were four streams of data that needed to be balanced in terms of bandwidth usage. These included a parameter stream, a data stream, an administrative stream and an audio visual stream (taking up most of the bandwidth). An additional feature was to simulate the process so that if packets were lost, the experiment would continue but as a simulation. It was felt that this approach to demonstrating an experiment was far easier to implement and more versatile as opposed to creating complex simulation models.

Delivery of Electrical / Electronics Engineering Associate Degree with Hands-on Laboratory

The delivery of the distance learning course was based on WebCT as the LMS. The overall target was to make the online as close as possible to the equivalent classroom courses.3 In order to give the students real lab experiences, the use of real lab kits and components was built into the program so that the students could conduct these experiments at home. Each lab trainer kit comprised a breadboard with fixed and variable power supply, a sine, square and triangular waveform generator, toggle switches and buffered LED indicators. In addition, the students required a digital multimeter, sound card and oscilloscope probes, and a simple tool kit. Typical labs varied from measurement of resistance, Ohm’s Law and Thevenin’s Theorem to construction of a Wheatstone Bridge.

The course management system was tightly organized to ensure the student received weekly modules comprising lecture notes, training modules and assignments. Weekly quizzes were given to ensure the knowledge was being absorbed. An electronic calendar, regular announcements and a discussion forum were used to emphasize assignment deadlines and any problems.

Live regular chat and video sessions were used with Adobe Connect being the web conferencing tool employed. Recordings of the sessions were provided to all participants. These were used for effective review sessions before tests and examinations.

The threaded discussion forum was used to post comments in an asynchronous way thus allowing students and instructor to keep in touch with all messages being kept for the duration of the course.

The final examination was supervised (at a local library or reasonably “secure” environment) to maintain integrity of the results.

A comparison between student scores between online and classroom-based courses revealed no significant difference. The aspect of the course that students enjoyed the most was the hands-on lab session they conducted in their homes.

Provision of Courses from an Engineering Degree Program

This project4 was designed for provision of courses (Circuits and Electronics and Signals and Systems) forming part of a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering. Students located far away from the university campus wishing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering have a few choices: attend day-time (or evening) sessions with considerable sacrifice in terms of travel, undertake a completely online course (which at present is unlikely to be acceptable to obtain registration as a professional engineer) or enroll in a course at a satellite campus. The approach followed at Seattle Pacific University was to approach it in a blended manner where certain classroom sessions were offered using synchronous online learning using Adobe Connect. Two campus classrooms were set up with a Tablet PC, microphones, speakers, LCD projector, document camera and webcams. The instructor can mark up the PowerPoint slides on the Tablet PC during the lecture. The audio was mixed and derived from two array microphones that picked up student comments, with a locally located microphone for the instructor to be used when the students were talking during group work. Due to poor resolution, a webcam that pointed towards the projector screen only gave a vague representation of the objects there.

During out-of-lecture times, the remote students could discuss issues with the instructor on the phone and using the Tablet PC to share notes. Students’ assignments (done electronically) were marked up by the instructor using the Tablet PC to make comments directly.

There were multiple fall-back scenarios if one of the items of equipment failed. For example, if the video projector failed, the document camera would be oriented towards the whiteboard screen. If the Tablet PC failed, the spare instructor PC would be used in conjunction with the document camera and if the audio system failed, the PC’s internal microphone would be deployed.

Labs were not done remotely but combined into blocks of time when the student would still have to come to campus but not necessarily during normal working hours. Examinations were still done on campus.

Recordings of the courses are done and this has enabled students who are remotely located, ill or travelling to review the sessions. A lecturer was even able to pre-record his session as he was going to be away during the time of his scheduled presentation.

Challenges that had to be overcome were limited bandwidth (when using video), mainly audio and visual (e.g. cost vs. audio quality/bandwidth), instructors having to think in terms of remote delivery (e.g. avoid using the traditional whiteboard but the Tablet PC) and minimizing the drain on the instructor’s time with daily set up.

32 students were surveyed and the response was generally acceptable, apart from issues with the technology being distracting and IT technical support required. However, being physically present was still the preferred option.

Students were mildly supportive of the remote delivery but overall mainly preferred having classroom sessions. The plan now is to expand the delivery to more students and to encompass the entire Bachelor of Science in Engineering program. The aim is not to replace the traditional classroom but to offer support for working students and to enhance the experience for on-campus students with more resources (during actual lectures) and recordings.

E-lectures and Podcasts for Optic Fiber Undergraduate Engineering Course Although this example of an online learning application does not use synchronous online learning, it has a number of techniques that would be excellent to apply in a blended setting with web conferencing. It is thus worth examining.

A blended approach5 is applied in this example to what was a traditional classroom-based university undergraduate engineering course comprising 6.5 hours per week for 14 weeks and transformed the existing course into an online offering. E-lectures were used to deliver the core lecture content and were supplemented by podcasts.

It was pointed out that the traditional recording of live lectures from a classroom session is not particularly effective, mainly because they are not designed specifically for later learning with no personal engagement possible. In addition, recorded lectures may refer to events that are not appropriate and have humor and other context-specific information that is not relevant in a recording and can cause considerable distraction. Traditional recordings can undoubtedly still be useful for revision purposes but not for the core purpose of acquiring knowledge.

The blended learning approach espoused here is broken down as follows:

• Four overall sections (optical fibers, light detectors, light emitters and optical fiber systems) were created.

• Each section (actually the first three) was broken into learning units (normally eight), a summative assessment, group work, podcasts and a discussion board.

• Each learning unit (with typically two hours study required) was broken into a list of objectives, e-lectures, video clips, website links, animations, background reading material and formative quizzes.

The two critical ingredients were e-lectures and podcasts. An e-lecture (about 10 minutes in duration) was specifically designed for later review and comprised a PowerPoint slide interface with audio, transcripts and video-type controls for pausing and rewinding.

An (audio only) podcast, of about 10 minutes duration, was recorded and delivered at the beginning of each week (via the Blackboard LMS site). The podcast consisted of a comment, feedback and feedforward on current events in the class, concluded with a humorous comment.

The assessment of this approach (using quantitative and qualitative feedback) showed that the median performance mark for students moved from 60% for classroom-based sessions (1998 to 2000) to 73% for the current e-lecture approach (2004 to 2009). The qualitative feedback from students showed that this approach allowed for students at different levels and provided active pacing with online summative assessments critical to keeping students up with the taught materials with the podcasts livening the course up and keeping it fresh and current. Overall, students indicate satisfaction with this approach, although they did indicate they didn’t want the face-to-face approach to disappear completely.

Whilst the qualitative interviews are exceptionally illustrative of the success of this approach, there is no quantitative discussion on how the issue of avoiding the students cramming the materials is concerned. In other words, no information was provided on when students access the materials (e.g. immediately before an assignment is due) or the overall attrition rate with this approach compared to that of classroom sessions.

Blended Learning for Broadcast Engineering

Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication implemented a Moodle LMS for their Broadcast Engineering classes.6 Moodle is used for course delivery, assessment and feedback. Instructors have applied podcasting and vodcasting technologies to enhance their classroom teaching activities. The idea is that adding online learning and LMSs to the classroom activities can improve the students' learning environment. Feedback from students was positive for the implementation of the LMS but less so for the vodcasting and podcasting lectures. 75% of the students claimed that they used the Moodle LMS at least twice a week.

An Attempt to Make Distance Learning Directly Equivalent to the Equivalent On-campus Experience

An attempt was made to modify the Electrical Engineering Technology distance learning program at the Old Dominion University to allow remote students to have the same experimental and deliverable experience as their on-campus colleagues.7 ABET, the US engineering accreditation body felt that distance learning courses should not differ from their on-campus counterparts. However, as discussed below, because of various logistical challenges this ended up not being possible.

The particular course reviewed for a more on-campus experience for the remotely located students was the microprocessor lab, which is based on the Microchip PIC 16F84A microcontroller, where the students are required to construct several microcontroller experimental circuits. Students purchase these components for these courses and perform a number of experiments in increasing level of difficulty through the course. The grading for the course is based around verifying the hardware performance of each project, review of the programming code (either Assembly or C++) and periodic quizzes on the materials covered.

A comparison was made in the use of Microsoft’s NetMeeting, Adobe Systems Acrobat Connect Professional (formerly Macromedia Breeze) and Blackboard Virtual Classroom LMS for providing a closer on-campus structure. It was found that both Blackboard and NetMeeting dropped students from the virtual meeting rooms at random, with larger class sizes making this problem worse for Blackboard. The preferable platform was considered to be Acrobat Connect for providing the remote students with an authentic on-campus classroom experience. Blackboard was considered to be effective as an LMS in providing access to course materials, grades, email and threaded discussions.

Extension of Two-year Community College Programs

A growing number of two-year community college graduates are keen to extend their degrees with a four-year Electronic Engineering Bachelor of Technology program but are unable to do this because of job, family commitments or in residing in isolated locations.8 A solution proposed by East Tennessee State University is to provide a distance learning solution with lab sessions based around the National Instruments ELVIS (Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite) product. This provides a versatile solution based on a computer, experiment board, data acquisition card and an interface board, providing full functionality with such equipment as transistor curve tracer, programmable power supplies and arbitrary waveform analyzer. Three ELVIS systems were set up as remote labs for students to access. The LabVIEW software has the ability to function as a remote lab server, thus allowing access for remote students at no additional cost. Control can be easily passed to other students or the instructor, all operating remotely.

They used two assessment instruments: one for the students and one for instructors to assess the success of the labs. These adhered to the following criteria.

Student Quality Indicators (Completed by the Student)

• Connection with the professor.

• Connection with other students.

• Student-centered.

• Expectations clearly articulated.

• Effective instructor-to-student communication.

• Effective student-to-instructor communication.

• Effective student-to-student communication.

• Anytime, any place learning.

• Self-paced schedule.

• Simulates an in-class "feel".

• Small classes.

• Clear, timely and meaningful feedback.

• Adequately prepared for online course.

• Incorporation of leading edge technologies.

• Self-reported learning.

• Challenging learning.

Course-content Quality Indicators in an Online Course (Completed by the Instructor):

• Timeliness.

• Learning.

• Quality.

• Teamwork.

• Oral and written communication.

• Incorporation of leading edge technologies.

Augmented Classroom Sessions with Advanced Digital Design Course

A traditional advanced digital design course was converted to distance learning at the Division of Engineering Technology in the College of Engineering at Wayne State University in a blended format with face-to-face presentations on the main campus that were simultaneously broadcasted to another site for distance learning students using a custom-built system by ICI Company based on ISDN technology called Coelive.9 The labs were based on the free copies of the Altera Corporation's Programmable Logic Design design software package together with the associated hardware lab kits that could be purchased for $149 each. Distance learning students downloaded the free software in order to perform the labs. Students had the option to either come onto the campus labs to perform the hardware portion of their labs or use the low-cost kits and perform this activity at home. The Blackboard LMS was used as the course management software for downloading class and lab resources, submitting assignments and obtaining course grades.

According to the anonymous post-course survey, the students were very positive about the overall experience and convenience–especially as this approached allowed them the flexibility of attending face-to-face lectures or remotely attending synchronous presentations (or indeed, reviewing the recordings) .

Remote Labs and Synchronous Lectures

Wayne State University College of Engineering changed from a custom-built remote delivery of lectures package over ISDN because it could only be delivered to specific locations.10 In addition, the cost was considered high, presumably because of the ISDN connection.

A new tool was developed for Wayne State to provide both synchronous and asynchronous communications. Synchronous communications were considered useful as they provided quick feedback and a higher level of student motivation. Three types of tools were provided: Peer-to-peer interaction between instructors and students with instant messaging, application sharing and full duplex audio and video. Multi-user interaction allowed for audio and videoconferencing, viewing slides and recordings. The third element was groupware interaction allowing for contact information, scheduling meetings and calendars.

This software was used within the Advanced Digital Design class with a lab session allowing students to log on and attend lectures anywhere (and use their own web cameras). Recordings could be reviewed later to enhance the presentation. As an option, programmable logic device tool kits were used at home by the students (effectively home-labs).

The opportunities for this system were increased flexibility for students (working at home or on-campus) and in viewing recordings on demand. Creation of specific PowerPoint slides for lectures was however considered somewhat of a time consuming exercise.

Assessment of Quality and Effectiveness of Online Education at Excelsior College

In 2007, Excelsior College was offering 72 online courses to 4500 students using asynchronous web delivery with the WebCT LMS being used for delivery.11 The two online degree programs–the Bachelor of Electronic Engineering Technology and the Bachelor of Nuclear Engineering Technology–were assessed for quality and effectiveness.

The four key elements of quality and effectiveness of online education were considered to be:

• Access.

• Student Learning.

• Student Satisfaction.

• Instructor Satisfaction.

The Quality Matters rubric developed by the Quality Matters Organization (qualitymatters.org) was used to assess the quality of course content. This comprised eight sections: Overview and introduction, objectives, assessment and measurement, resources and materials, learner engagement, course technology, learner support and accessibility. The people involved in assessing the quality of the courses included the subject matter expert, the project manager and the managers for online delivery. Every new course introduced has to go through this rigorous process before being allowed to be run.

In addition, there was an in-class evaluation by students comprising 26 questions, ranging from instructor-learner interaction, adequacy of technology and support, responsiveness and capability of staff. The students indicated a high level of satisfaction with the quality of the courses, and the quality and effectiveness of instruction and delivery system.

There was also a Quality of Service survey, investigating the level of academic rigor and difficulty of the online courses. There was an indication that the academic level may need to be increased. Finally, there was a survey about value, cost and quality of the courses with the results showing neutral or positive. These results were benchmarked against other institutions such as University of Georgia and Indiana University showing similar outcomes.

Online Learning in the Classroom and On-campus

The application of distance learning technologies to on-campus students has been applied by the Purdue University Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty commencing in August 2005.12 Lecture materials were pre-recorded and delivered through streaming video. Students also were required to attend compulsory lab sessions where they undertook lab work and homework problems. This was for a programming course entitled Object-oriented Programming using C++ and Java. All lectures were recorded in advance using Camtasia Studio and a Tablet PC for handwritten comments on the slides. Four programming assignments were required: one in Java; one in C++ and the other two in an optional language. There were eight homework assignments, each with five questions that could be automatically graded by WebCT. Three mid-term exams and one final exam had to be undertaken in the classroom.

There were three sessions scheduled per week for the class; of these two, lecture videos were provided and for the remaining session, students could attend the lab. The only real interaction with instructors was during the 12 graded lab assignments that could only be signed off when a student physically fronted up in the computer lab.

In summary, there were a number of different technologies and approaches adopted:

• Online lectures and tutorials, comprising tutorials of software tools and lectures. Each 50-minute recorded lecture required an hour to prepare, another hour and a half to record and two more hours to edit into an appropriate video format.

• Online homework. A student can submit homework multiple times with the highest score recorded.

• Classroom response system. All students respond anonymously to questions posed by the instructor using a Classroom Performance System.

• Online newsgroup. Online questions were posed by students and answered by other students and the instructor.

• Online chat room. This wasn’t used, so it was converted to a traditional face-to-face office hour.

• Working in teams. The students were often broken into teams of 2 or 3 for each programming assignment.

A survey of the 16 students in the Fall 2006 cohort showed that the online newsgroup was considered the most effective with online video tutorials considered the next most effective. A second survey of 27 students in Fall 2007, indicated that the online newsgroup was again the most effective followed by working in teams.

Mixed Fortunes in Changing Freshman Engineering Technologies to an Online Format

Two courses were converted to online format at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology Department at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) with mixed results.13 These were the Digital Fundamentals and Applied Object Oriented Programming courses aimed at first year ("freshman") engineering students. The work to convert them was done over the three years preceding 2006. Each course was structured as a series of modules (six for digital fundamentals and eight for the programming one); each module had an introduction, lesson pages with reading assignments, solved problems, homework, one to three projects and a review. Each course had optional help sessions on campus and free tutoring (up to 20 hours per week).

However, the subsequent student reviews showed a high degree of dissatisfaction. In addition, there was a higher percentage of withdrawals (30%) compared to the percentage of withdrawals on-campus (6%). This inevitably raises the question of whether the "wrong" students signed up for these courses as they were online and thus perhaps considered easier or more convenient, without any consideration for the preferred learning style of the student and the increased self-discipline required.

A solution was to provide online courses later on in a student's college career. By this time, the student may have had experience with other difficult subjects, worked in labs, developed more computer, problem solving and communications skills and could thus decide whether their learning style was indeed suited to distance learning. It is interesting to note that the students' final results were similar for both classroom and online formats of the course. It is suggested that this may be due to more highly motivated and able students "surviving" to the end of the course.

Renewable Energy Virtual Lab and Online Learning

The cost of upgrading or establishing a renewable energy lab can be high and online learning coupled with virtual labs offers a low-cost alternative.14 A graduate / senior undergraduate level course on alternative energy distributed generation systems was established at Drexel University. The course was based on a multi-source wind / photovoltatics (PV) / fuel cell power generation system which could either operate in stand-alone mode or be connected to the grid. The course was more broad-based than other offerings. After an introduction to basic electrical power engineering and energy, it proceeded through distributed generation, wind energy, solar energy, energy storage systems as well as fuel cell technologies, concluding with a final project.

MATLAB-Simulink models were constructed from system preprocessed data of a wind turbine generator, PV solar array, fuel cells, batteries and renewable energy interfacing and control. These were then used by the distance learning students in the course for experimentation.

A Master’s Degree in Remote Engineering

A course which was part of a master’s degree in remote engineering entitled Rapid Prototyping of Digital Systems (developed by the Ilmenau University of Technology) was created.15 In this course the students learned about rapid prototyping of embedded digital control systems, how to apply CAD tools, logical simulation and synthesis. An initial one-day lecture was used to present the basic theoretical concepts and laboratory practices. The remaining lectures were conducted in a distance learning mode using the Moodle LMS. Most of the assignments were hands-on, using a prototyping board to learn about the basics of Boolean algebra, combinational logic and simple sequential circuits, as applied to embedded controllers. Initially, a data acquisition card was used to read and update the status of the I/O pins of the board, but later a PIC microcontroller was used with a 70% reduction in the cost of the overall system. Initially, the prototyping board had to be accessed physically at the relevant university, but later this was set up as a remote lab for enhanced convenience of the students.

LabVIEW remote panel technology was used to publish the web pages that contained the embedded pages of the board. The MAX+PLUS II development environment provided a way of simulating the test environments for programs written by the student; before these were downloaded to the remote system. The MAX+PLUS II development environment was accessed remotely using a Citrix Presentation Server. This development environment allowed for development and testing of the program before it was downloaded (via Citrix) to the test board.

The iLab Shared Architecture (ISA) software (developed by MIT) was used to add in user management, data storage and scheduling of lab sessions. A survey was conducted of the students who were undertaking this course and the responses were instructive. About 80% of respondents believed the remote lab could replace the localized experiment. Almost 60% indicated that they could not see any significant difference between the remote lab and the physical “hands-on” labs. Overall, all indicated moderate to a high level of satisfaction with the online lab.

Remote Labs in Uganda

Makerere University in Uganda used the NI ELVIS II hardware, LabVIEW and Multisim software to teach digital electronics to computer, electrical and telecommunications engineering students using remote labs based around MIT’s iLabs Shared Architecture.16 During the period 2008 to 2010, over 446 students undertook these labs. In the first lab, students used the ELVIS hardware (and digital inputs and outputs) together with a LabVIEW VI to construct various combinations of NAND gates to create certain applications such as binary half and full adders, shift registers and combinational logic. NI Multisim was then used to simulate the NI ELVIS instruments. Finally, the online remote lab was used to perform experiments such as logic gate characterization, applications of NAND gates and latches as memory devices.

Online and On-campus Engineering Course in Automatic Identification

Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) is a junior level course in the Industrial Technology and Computer Information Technology Department of Purdue University.17 Both online and on-campus versions of the course are based around the WebCT Vista LMS. The on-campus course comprised assignments, readings and online quizzes together with classroom sessions, while the online course was totally asynchronous. Each on-campus lecture was digitized and streamed to students on-demand.

There were three categories of labs: identical online and on-campus labs, some which were not interchangeable, and a set that was convertible with some modifications.

The remote students connected to the 18 labs using RealVNC 4.0 software that allowed the students to connect to one of five computers in the campus labs. It was estimated that 80% of the labs could be completed remotely. A survey was done in 2005 of 69 on-campus and 6 online students with the following results:

• Distance students spent 22 minutes per lab session against that of 17 minutes for on-campus students.

• In the labs, the distance education students had an average score of 76% against that of 89% for on-campus students.

• There was no statistical difference in the exam results for the online and on-campus students.

The difference in the lab results are most likely due to the fact that the labs were more challenging for the distance students, thanks to the lack of intuitively obvious software (especially for the RFID and contact memory lab software) and the lack of any lab assistant available to help with the installation of the RealVNC software, troubleshoot problems and guide with the lab work. More work needed to be done here to improve these labs for online students.

A Complete Web and Video-conference-based Electrical Engineering Degree Program

The University of Wisconsin, Platteville has successfully migrated to a blended solution for provision of a four-year Bachelor of Engineering Program especially aimed at remote community college students (who were previously only able to undertake a two-year program).18

The suggestion is that the two main reasons for undergraduate electrical engineering programs not being transferred in their entirety to the web is because of the high mathematical intensity of the program and need for proper hands-on laboratories. The use of web and videoconferencing software is now able to solve the former problem in that a common whiteboard and application programs can be easily shared with remote students. The labs are still a somewhat intractable issue with virtual labs not being considered sufficiently hands-on and reflecting real world engineering experience, and the software can be expensive. Portable kits (such as the National Instruments’ ELVIS system) were considered to be a potential solution and could be used for the more basic introductory courses. The alternative selected was to place portable labs at each remote community college for a short period of time and require the students to attend these. The web conferencing software was used in a one-on-one basis for the instructor to test the students understanding of aspects of the labs. Student preparation was enhanced by requiring students to perform pre-and post-tests for each lab project.

The lectures were offered using streaming video technology and placed on the Desire2Learn LMS on the class home page (where all the other course materials were located) within 20 minutes of completion. They could then be viewed by the students at their convenience. Regular weekly office hours were arranged for each student using the Adobe Connect Pro web conferencing software. Remote students were provided with Tablet PCs with all the required software preloaded. An option to be considered for the future is to allow students remote access to all the software installed at the main campus.

The lessons learned from this experience were manifold:

• Ensure that distance students are informed of expectations and requirements (such as lab locations and times) at the outset. All materials and communications should be through one simple class web page.

• Regular office hours for student assistance should be established using web conferencing software.

• Instructors need additional time to prepare courses and in learning the technology.

• Remote troubleshooting of remote design projects is something that needs to be worked on, using webcams and remote access for instructors.

Since the program was initiated in 2008, over 200 students have completed these distance learning courses.

Online Graduate Engineering Technology Course

Drexel University has recently created a new Master of Science in Engineering Technology that focused on applied aspects of technology such as programmable devices (including microcontrollers, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and Field Programmable Gate Arrays).19

Each week’s lecture has an accompanying set of labs. Each PLC workstation comprised a Programmable Logic Controller trainer system (Allen Bradley) and electro-pneumatic and motor application panels with a webcam to monitor all items. Similarly, the microcontroller workstations are built around Dragon12-Plus Development boards based on a Freescale microcontroller, whilst the FPGA labs use a BASYS 2 FPGA board from Digilent.

Lab access software was built around the UltraVNC server (uvnc.com) and was selected in preference to the ubiquitous Windows Remote Desktop, as it was considered more reliable and easier to use. It also did not lock out the local display and controls thus allowing a local instructor (physically in the lab) to assist the remote student. Voice communication was achieved using VoIP. There were some delays, typically up to a few hundred milliseconds, which were noticeable but not irritating. For slower connections, the resolution of the webcam was changed from 640x480 to 320x240 and the color depth was reduced.

Although the VNC software allowed complete control of all program development, it didn’t allow control of physical inputs such as switches. A relay box was thus created using a PIC16F887 microcontroller and support circuitry (relay switched inputs with 1KOhm current limiting resistor and Zener Diode Combination). An onscreen virtual panel could then be used by the student to switch inputs on and off, just as with local students. A RS-232 interface connects the virtual panel to the relay panel. In addition, 16 outputs from the PLC (or any other hardware) are monitored by the virtual relay panel as well as with LEDs on the relay box.

Assessment was conducted via written examinations, homework, participation in online discussion forums and lab reports. Finally, an online project was undertaken on either the PLC, microcontroller or FPGA trainer and a program file was submitted.

A Somewhat Dated DSP Experience that is nonetheless Applicable Today

An online Digital Signal Processing (DSP) course for practicing engineers was put together at the Georgia Institute of Technology, focusing on the implementation of DSP algorithms on fixed-point processors with three threads: system theory, real-time implementation principles and lab exercises.20

Industry has been very active in providing short courses and webinars on aspects of application of their DSP chips; however, the application of theory to real scenarios has been more patchy and this online course fills a gap, especially for working professionals looking for after-hours education. The course length was designed to be one semester of 12 weeks.

The aspect of these courses considered the most challenging–the labs–was conducted using a DSP board attached to a student’s computer. Streaming video (a small headshot of the presenter) with an HTML presentation was used to keep the bandwidth demands modest. Modules comprised 5-15 minute streaming presentations, online quizzes and assignments. An LMS (WebCT) was used for the framework to log in, produce the web pages and for interaction. However, it took an enormous amount of time to produce a professional course and far more individual attention for students than in a traditional classroom. There was initially very strong attendance with 65 students in September 2000. Surely, this must be one of the pioneering online courses in engineering education.

Failure of a Highly Interactive Online Program

Whilst failure can be regarded unfavorably, it can be useful in preventing similar situations happening in future.21 An electrical utility in Australia had contracted the Engineering Institute of Technology to run a few courses relating to their incoming apprentices on basic electrical engineering topics. However, after a few months the program was terminated as there was a level of dissatisfaction from the students and a drop off in numbers (from a commencing class of 9 to a paltry 4).

The courses were structured with an initial two hours (from 9am to 11am), a break of two hours where assignments would be undertaken and then another session from 1pm to 3pm. Elluminate was used for the presentations (with tablets and application sharing). Electromeet software was used to conduct a few remote labs. The students were given basic kits with which to test the basic principles of electrical engineering and webcams so that the instructor could show them how to fix any issues that came up. The instructor was highly interactive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic and had superb course materials. To all intents and purposes, the course should have been very successful.

However, there were some major problems:

• An equivalent cohort of students was provided with time-off to travel to a local college (with hotel accommodation and allowances) with opportunities for socializing. The distance learning students didn’t receive these benefits.

• It was not easy for the local managers to be 100% supportive in terms of providing an environment conducive to learning (noisy/lack of interest in their study) as they had their own (often critical) operational commitments.

• There were major technical problems with the use of the broadband internet connection with frequent dropouts and inability to run certain items of software or to access YouTube videos.

• Students were somewhat immature and not suited to sitting in front of a computer for hours on end listening to a remote instructor teaching them a highly technical subject.

• The entry level of the students should have been tested beforehand as some of their mathematics and arithmetic skills were inadequate to cope with the basic materials.

These would all need to be resolved before commencing the teaching of this type of online course again. It should be remarked that the electrical utility should be commended for experimenting with new forms of training and their overall experience with online engineering training has been good.

16.3  Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

Harley Davidson and a Master’s Degree

An interesting example of the process in achieving a master’s degree in engineering was explained by an engineer from Harley Davidson.22

Leah Bober has worked for Harley Davidson as a powertrain engineer and was doing an online Masters degree in engineering in engine systems through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After meeting with students online, she then attended a 5-day summer program on campus. The week before each online class session, presented through web conferencing, she received a CD with PowerPoint presentations on it and was required to discuss this with the other students in her class. Homework assignments and other projects were presented by the individual teams in a collaborative environment where everyone could view the presentations. She considered the diversity in student occupations, ages and degree of experience as contributing enormously to the learning experience with each class having 10 to 15 students. She felt that this level of interaction in a residential campus course would be highly unlikely.

One of the First Examples of Distance Learning and Remote Laboratory

Washington State University has campuses at a variety of locations such as Spokane, Pullman, Tri-cities, Vancouver and the Boeing Aircraft Company. They found that the quality of education varied due to the variety of equipment at each location. They felt at the time (2001) that one of the major difficulties with remote laboratories was the inability to stream live video over the internet due to bandwidth restrictions. They set up a junior level manufacturing processes laboratory course that requires a modular production system, Allen Bradley SLC 505 programmable logic Controllers and a Mitsubishi RV-M1 industrial robot (accessed through a virtual teach pendant). All equipment can be directly accessed via Ethernet through the internet and was located at the Vancouver campus. Students were grouped in teams of two or three at each site. The client machines at all the campuses had the PLC and SCADA software installed together with access to the industrial robot. A dedicated videoconferencing link for transferring the instructor interactions as well as views of the laboratory was used in addition to the internet connection that was focused mainly on the actual programming of the various devices.

In addition to the usual advantages for a remote laboratory, there was no need for a customized curriculum for each location and a standardized quality in education was achieved. Other benefits were active competition between the different teams of students on the different sites that could never be achieved with simulations or only videos of equipment. The main disadvantages were that it was time consuming to create the curriculum, difficult to maintain software on the client machines, impossible to test the laboratories prior to offering them to the students and the interactive dedicated videoconferencing system could not be offered in all states. The overall feedback from the students was excellent apart from one laboratory where there were initially some technical difficulties.23

Vandalization of Interactive Broadcast System

A Dynamics engineering course was presented by California State University, Fresno to remote engineering students located where there were no bricks and mortar institutions.24 In 2008, the Polycom interactive broadcast system was vandalized and an immediate swap over was made to Elluminate web conferencing software with mixed to moderately positive feedback from the students (although the instructor preferred this to the broadcast system).

The remote students met in one classroom. The web conferencing approach was a significant change from the Polycom videoconferencing system that had three screens displaying the content and instructor at the front of the room and the distant students at the back of the room. Homework was done by students in groups of five to enhance the student-to-student collaborative interactions. Each student also had to present an example problem to the class. There were problems with staying connected to the Elluminate system and the quality of the instructor screen was poor.

Recommendations were that more should be done for contingency planning for complete system failure of delivery systems and students should be kept informed (and trained on) the use of any non-traditional methods of presentation. Classroom discipline at remote locations could also be a problem and needed to be carefully dealt with. Finally, while students do demand newer methods of delivery providing time and geographical independence, the instructor has to be wary about the definite reluctance of many students to fully embrace these approaches.

Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) Laboratory

During a Materials Science course at Texas Christian University, students cover the electrical and thermal properties of materials.25 An experiment was devised to determine “the in-plane tip deflection vs. power characteristics of a MEMS electrothermal actuator”. Many items of sophisticated equipment were used in this lab such as a microprobe station, microprobes, a microscope, video camera, VCR and TV monitor, National Instruments (NI) data acquisition and image processing boards together with associated software. A series of voltages (each for four seconds and then reduced to zero) was applied to the MEMS device. The deflection of the device was measured using image processing software. A graphical plot was then constructed of deflection against power input.

The NI LabVIEW software allows for the Virtual Instruments (VIs) to be viewed and controlled over the internet using a web browser. A web server is located on the VI server PC that is connected to the experiment equipment. The LabVIEW run-time engine (free-of-charge) must be installed on the student’s machine.

There were some difficulties in running the NI software on a Macintosh operating system and it was impossible to visually determine the displacement of the MEMS device when power was supplied to it (against when it was in the rest position and unpowered). The remote experiments were done in 2007 and 2008, with the undergraduate students working in three teams per lab session and with three lab sessions per year. It was noted that the student’s interest was immediately piqued when they realized they were working on a real system rather than a simulation. Overall, it was considered a satisfactory remote experiment and plans were afoot to increase the offering with different labs.

MEMS / Microsystems

The Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems has developed a series of distance learning courses in MEMS/Microsystems with streaming video of lectures and course materials being posted to the website within a day of the class being delivered.26

Podcasting an Applied Thermodynamics Mechanical Engineering Class

Podcasting was used in the presenting a portion of an applied Thermodynamics class (a junior-level course) for mechanical engineering students.27 Podcasting is defined as capturing of a face-to-face lecture (audio and written notes) for later playback by students. This is useful for students (or indeed, instructors) missing classes and for later review and reflection. The author replaced sections of the Thermodynamics course (comprising three 50-minute class meetings out of nine sessions) with podcasts. A Tablet PC was used for class presentation and this was projected onto a computer screen. The entire lecture was captured, including the audio from the instructor and these were synchronized with each pen stroke on the Tablet PC). 37 students were surveyed. The survey was given as well as a homework assignment and a quiz was administered. The assignment and quiz indicated no significant differences in the performance between those who used the podcast and those who attended the face-to-face sessions.

The results showed that podcasting can indeed replace some face-to-face meetings but the disadvantages outweigh its benefits. Students were twitchy about the lack of learning from reduced interaction with their peers and instructor and reduced motivation to use the podcasts. However, the students did appreciate the increased flexibility in "attending class" at their time of choice. As a further positive, the podcasting did allow the possibility of considerably increased reflection and review. The findings thus suggested that podcasting should be used as a supplement rather than as a replacement for face-to-face classes.

Sometimes Despite Excellent Reviews, Asynchronous Learning Doesn't Always Work Out

The core senior level courses from the Manufacturing Engineering Technology BS Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, were converted into online courses with assistance from state grant funding commencing in 2004.28 The demand for this conversion to online delivery was driven by the following suggestions from students:

• That improving the quality of courses was associated with increasing the use of computer technology.

• That scheduling and delivery should be flexible.

• That greater retention of students could be achieved by going online.

• That a growth in lifelong (or mature age) learners who preferred flexibility in delivery would be achieved from going online.

Courses were converted into an asynchronous online format using extensive multimedia resources with modules timed with the weeks of the semester to counteract the penchant of learners to procrastinate. The results of the online integration into the overall program were generally excellent with students indicating greater reading (73%) than with face-to-face courses, a preference for online to face-to-face (77%) and most doing their study online at home (88%). Procrastination was still an issue (80%) and the weekly paced module structure was thus essential.

A joint venture was set up with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) to obtain higher quality case studies allowing for streaming of content online. Similar quality indicators to that for face-to-face learning were generally positive (including 98% student retention) with no minimal differences in terms of grades.

Some notes from undertaking this project included:

• High Speed broadband varies from student to student.

• A common framework and format for the resources is essential.

• It is better to provide all the online content in complete chunks rather than 'dribbles'.

• Ensure expectations for delivery of materials are clear and unambiguous.

• Keep recorded content as short as possible.

• Continually measure and improve.

Unfortunately, despite very favorable indicators and feedback, the online format was not cost-effective compared to that of face-to-face sessions, especially as most students were on-campus for other courses. The costs for maintenance of the online learning resources were also significant because of regular curriculum changes and new faculty familiarizing themselves with the technology.

Boeing’s Remote Labs with CAD and 3D Simulation Software

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a critical program within Boeing.29 This is the program of managing a product from its birth to obsolescence with the objective of improving performance and reducing costs. Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering joined with Boeing’s Learning, Training and Development division to provide three courses (called Integrated Design and Manufacturing through Product Life Cycle Management) on this topic, providing a blend between academic theory and industry experience. Previously, these courses were offered as residential programs at specific locations resulting in many engineers missing the course. As the authors pointed out, there are a myriad of challenges in presenting these courses in a distance learning format and learners have to be self-motivated, strongly organized and can handle the lack of physical cues such as body language and lack of community due to the physical presence.

This first course (of three) was presented over 10 weeks in an online format with a weekly two-hour remote lab. The sessions were conducted from faculty at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia using WebEx Meeting Centre (for the presentations) and WebEx Training Centre for the labs located at Boeing in Seattle and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. A separate teleconference facility was used for audio. The software, such as CATIA, ENOVIA and DELMIA was loaded on all machines. With an increasing number of students in the lab, the latency in working with the lab software became high and often exceeded a second, resulting in some unhappiness on the part of the students. However, the students were generally very happy with the quality of instructor.

A few suggestions were made on improving the course experience for future courses:

• Store student files in easily retrievable locations.

• Compress large files for quicker download.

• Audio on one conference telephone line is difficult to manage (especially for support issues).

• Having two different WebEx sessions running simultaneously can be challenging.

• Increase the level of interactivity and feedback during the presentations.

• Reduce the number of steps for each task an instructor uses to demonstrate a particular feature of the software to a maximum of five to 10 minutes.

• Ensure lab assistants are more proactive about helping students (rather than being reactive and waiting for a query).

• Provide more preliminary training on the use of the actual software.

Certificate in Product Life Cycle Management for the Aerospace Industry

A certificate course on 3D solid modeling, product data and configuration management and digital manufacturing was put together for the Boeing Company by the Department of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue University.30 Distance Delivery was provided by Citrix software, with the infrastructure initially hosted by Purdue University but eventually by a virtual hosting company. With an initial take-up of 20 students (and with 12 completing) from six different Boeing locations, the course met twice a week in the evenings. Adobe Connect or WebEx with a dedicated teleconference line was used for the lectures.

There were a number of challenges including insufficient network bandwidth at the university, inadequate integration between the LMS and the PLM tool and security concerns within the Boeing firewall. The university questioned the value of the project against the huge amount of work undertaken. It was hoped that a solution to the problems with bandwidth and scalability of delivery would be resolved with a third party virtual hosting company.

Junior Level Electromechanical Design Course

A face-to-face interdisciplinary junior electromechanical engineering design course at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston was converted to a blended (mainly online) format.31 The objective of the course was to take knowledge gained in earlier courses to design a full prototype of a product. Students work in teams with defined individual responsibilities for each member and are expected to go through the entire design process in creating an original product. The instructor had some concerns with the face-to-face approach and he believed that a blended approach (with a significant online component) could make the course more effective thus enabling more teams to complete each prototype design in its entirety. Admittedly, much of the work involved face-to-face testing and development in the university labs, but it was estimated that half of the work did not require face-to-face meetings. This included writing of formal reports, 20-minute formal presentations by teams, group meetings with the instructor, both formally and on an ad-hoc basis (sorting out problems) and a one-hour lecture once a week.

The following online technologies were thus added to the course:

• The Blackboard LMS was used for general announcements and as a general repository for course resources.

• A Google Docs site was built using Google Apps with the instructor as owner. Within Google Docs, subfolders were created for each team to use. Being an educational college, this facility was provided free.

• A video and web conferencing package (Dim Dim) was used for individual teams (up to a maximum of five members were free).

• A further video and web conferencing package (Adobe Connect) was used for the entire class of typically 25 members. This was used for general lecturing and meetings between the instructor and the 13 team leaders.

Limited surveys of the students, indicated student satisfaction with this blended approach and the instructor was poised to extend it to other courses.

Ocean Engineering 100% Online

Virginia Tech has a well-established tradition in using distance learning with 85% of the departments offering this facility.32 The MS in Ocean Engineering (or design of ships) was the first program in engineering to be available online. The primary tools used here have been Blackboard for the LMS, Breeze (now part of Adobe) for recording of the presentations and Centra, which allows both recording and live streaming.

The different graduate courses have different arrangements for presentations. For example, Advanced Ship Structural Analysis and Rationally-Based Design of Ocean Structures have a weekly group of three 30-minute web classes (one which is live on a Wednesday) with all three recorded for later review. The live class is presented and recorded using Centra software. The two recorded classes use PowerPoint presentations combined with voice-over using the Breeze software and are made available on the Blackboard LMS. These recordings were only 30 minutes long, instead of the 50-minute lecture, so the presentation is better organized, the instructor does not have the handicap of wasting time writing on the board and the students don’t need to laboriously make notes. Homework is given after each class and is due by 10am, three to five days later. Students use Mathcad for the assignments and upload their work onto the Blackboard LMS. The deadline for the homework is rigid, thus ensuring that the students keep up to date, giving the instructor quick feedback. The suggestion is made that students tend to perform better if they do the homework immediately after the class. In addition, quizzes are made available at a pre-defined time for a fixed period of time (typically seven hours), are open book and take about 50 minutes to complete. The mid-term and final exams are open book and are undertaken during a two-hour live session in the evening. The exams must be faxed to the instructor by 10am the next day. Presumably, honesty is expected in the students not continuing to work on their exam after the two-hour period has elapsed.

The recommendation is made that the best option in the distance learning environment is for open book exams. This is closer to the real world that the modern engineer works in, where he or she is expected to solve real problems by gathering information and working on a solution, as compared to the closed book approach of reproducing words from a textbook or working on an equation which has been memorized.

In the other courses, the students collaborate solely online, sharing software and doing presentations to each other. In one course, it was noted that the remote students preferred text-chat to the microphone.

Feedback from students has been good with convenience cited as the top reason for doing it online. An Eduventures study was quoted which noted that employers were increasingly enthusiastic and supporting online education. Scales research on distance learning courses indicated that 36% preferred live online instruction (with 20% more for video teleconferencing making a total of 56%) against 24% for self-paced learning.

Screen Casting Software Application for Mechanical Engineering Courses

The instructor’s slides, voice and any screen activity on a PC can be captured using a tool such as Camtasia Studio (from TechSmith Corporation) and then converted into an easy-to-view and widely accessible format such as Flash. This makes it easy to record a lecture for students who can’t attend. The University of Kentucky has used this effectively with their mechanical engineering courses.33 In the course on Mechanical Vibrations, students at remote campuses viewed lectures recorded using Camtasia and posted on the Blackboard LMS. The lecture material was provided in advance in PowerPoint, with handwritten notes recorded using a stylus on a Tablet PC. Where a lecture was presented, all screen activity was recorded using a lapel microphone for audio. This approach with screencasts was particularly useful in assisting students in demonstrating how to use software for completing complex assignments (such as use of MATLAB), where the student can simultaneously open the software package and perform the tasks discussed in the recorded video (e.g. in performing a dynamic analysis for a system larger than two degrees of freedom) A video was considered better than using a static tutorial or a standard classroom lecture.

Another course where this technique was successfully used was gas dynamics, where four additional example problems were recorded. These were recorded from a tablet PC using Camtasia to record the PowerPoint (with microphone) with handwritten comments on the PowerPoint using a stylus.

All videos were stored in the widely-supported FLV format and were directly viewable from the website. The screen capturing software provided many advantages including ability to edit recordings, output to many different formats, provision of table of contents to easily jump to the desired section of the video and, finally, a selectable resolution of the recording. An example of file sizes can be gauged from a 17-minute video with PowerPoint slides which came to 50MBytes in original recording format. This was then compressed to 20% of its size for FLV, WMV and M4V (apart from AVI format which actually increased slightly in size to 51.44MB).

A small survey of six students indicated that five out of the six watched at least one video and indicated satisfaction with this approach. It was planned to extend the use of the software to lab video recordings where slow motion video demonstrations could be made, as well as extending its use to recording more specific software package use for independent viewing by students (and thus using the lectures more productively for other purposes).

Conversion from Classroom to Online Robotics Lab

A joint venture Robotics Lab between Case Western Reserve and Wright State Universities converted a classroom-based robotics lab to online format with significant challenges reported.34 There were two variations on the robotics course: One an undergraduate engineering robotics lab course and the other a two-week summer session for high school science teachers.

The traditional robotics course required everyone to be working in the same physical room with a group-based curriculum with considerable interaction, collaboration and group support occurring. Both the non-verbal and verbal (e.g. tone of voice) cues contributed to the overall success of the course. There was quicker iteration to a solution to a problem when everyone was physically located together. The course comprised hands-on mechanical design as well as software control. This resulted in specialization of the team members to one each working on the mechanical, software and general aspects of the project. Finally, a considerable proportion of the documentation was handwritten or crudely pasted together–perhaps somewhat messy, but it was all combined together in an auditable manner.

The undergraduates working on the autonomous robot design course used LEGO beams, plates, gears and motors controlled by an 8-bit microprocessor programmed in Interactive C. Course grades were provided on the basis of class participation and written design notebooks which were kept throughout the semester. The first half of the course comprised practical C-programming skills, mechanical design (with LEGO), sensors, software design and animal behavior strategies. The second half comprised the design project, with each team building two autonomous robots to collect appropriately colored eggs. A similar course was also constructed for school science teachers but with upgraded hardware compared to the undergraduate course and which ran over 10 days.

These courses were then converted to an online format with single students working in remote environments with access to shared robot hardware. The mechanical design portion was eliminated with attention focused only on software control of a single robotic architecture and electronic-only lab notebook format requirements (as opposed to handwritten notes). A fixed hardware platform (Khepera robot) was used to keep the same level of functionality of the physical robot for all students as well as providing a robot simulator for individual use.

There were, however, a number of issues with the online course:

• Despite being socialized with texting, social media and phones, students were not able to communicate adequately with each other at a sufficiently high level. The communications had multiple threads (some of it background chatter) and was difficult to deal with effectively.

• The instructor did not have a coherent holistic view of the entire class and lost track of the quiet underachievers who slipped under the radar.

• The student’s screen window was very cluttered containing simulator, robot streaming video, chat client, code editor, compiler window, lab journal and course textbook viewer.

• The students who needed help didn’t get it effectively and were lost in the online world. Initial configuration of computers was a problem for the weaker individuals. This will be dealt with in future courses by providing setups requiring zero configuration and rewarding those who help others.

• Removal of the mechanical aspect (including LEGO) made for less interesting work, especially for the younger team members (K-12).

• Finally, Java is harder than Interactive C to program in. This is not easy to address.

In conclusion, it is difficult to see how the traditional format can be transferred to an online format and retain the same richness as in the original classroom. Perhaps the best solution would have been to convert to some blended format.

Low Overhead and High Overhead Delivery of Courses

The US Military Academy West Point experimented with two approaches to delivering engineering courses through distance learning.35 West Point had traditionally not undertaken much distance learning until 2005, perhaps due to reasons of institutional culture rather than lack of demand.

The first approach–the low-cost one–was undertaken for the Mechanics of Materials course for a student in France. The instructor's notes were made available as "board notes" (what he would write on the whiteboard in a classroom) and were provided to the student in pdf format from a website (~1MB). The instructor also took a laptop and webcam into the classroom and, using Windows Moviemaker, recorded his lectures. Instant messaging was used to provide support with live chat, voice and video and showed the student the level of faculty commitment to his learning. The student naturally had a copy of the textbook as well. All homework was provided via email in pdf format. Submission was similarly effected via email and written work scanned in via pdf or jpeg format. Mid-term exams and tests were used for self-evaluation purposes and didn't count towards the final result. The four lab periods were waived. For reasons of propriety, the final exam was held at Westpoint under the same conditions as the other on-campus students. The students did well with 10% above the course average.

The second approach, using a more in-depth strategy, was provided to four non-engineering majors studying in three different countries for the Introduction to Engineering Mechanics and Design course. There were some initial constraints that had to be overcome: Quick provision of materials with two months allowed before commencement, no information about connectivity/academic schedules and time demands on the students, three different time zones, four different institutions, no scanning facilities and students had very little proficiency in computational and computer graphics software. All quantitative homework had to be done using a computational software package such as Mathcad or Mathematica using PowerPoint’s graphical capabilities as a supplement.

A course website was created comprising course schedule, administration details, homework assignments and course resources and one page for each of 40 lessons. Each lesson page comprised the following: orientation to the topic, objectives, reading assignment, definitions, e-lecture, worked problem solutions, critical thinking questions and applications such as homework problems. The e-lectures were created using Macromedia Flash but this was very time consuming, taking up to four days to create each lecture. Once the students had "caught up" at lesson eight, a revised format of lectures was supplied, consisting of scanned handwritten "board notes" with an audio presentation in mp3 format. The identical materials used with the classroom presentation such as homework assignments, lab exercises, mid-term exams and final exams were supplied.

Every second day, students were required to read the relevant lesson page and undertake readings and assignments. These had to be sent back to the instructor via email. Every week, the students had to submit solutions to the problem set using Mathcad and PowerPoint. Instant messaging was used to communicate questions. The intra-semester exams were treated as homework assignments. With the lab, the students were provided with a digital video file and the raw experimental data and had to construct stress-strain curves, analyze the results, draw conclusions and write a report. The final exam was undertaken at the West Point campus.

Three of the four students completed the course successfully. The greatest challenge was in achieving internet connectivity at these diverse locations. The students were unable to use PowerPoint effectively to create the necessary engineering graphics. This was then abandoned and hand drawn sketches were used. These were photographed and sent back in digital format. Mathcad was successfully used by one student but failed for the other two (resulting in all calculations being done by hand by them). Instant messaging was most successful as a means of communications, interaction and support. At the conclusion of the course, the three students indicated a very high level of satisfaction with two remarking that the simpler e-lecture format was preferred to the sophisticated Flash format.

In conclusion, it would appear that adaptability in applying the different technologies and techniques for instructors and students is a key attribute in making this course successful.

Redesign of Introductory Mechanics Course for Online Delivery

The Boston University engineering faculty took an introductory mechanics course that had 60% of class time dedicated to solving application problems.36 They felt that the emphasis on problem solving would make it excellent for conversion to an asynchronous format. Normally, the course comprised 25 lectures and it was converted to a blended format for all students still on campus. Seven lectures were provided in an online asynchronous format; the remaining lectures were presented in the face-to-face classroom manner except that the PowerPoint slides were also made available to students on the CourseInfo LMS.

Video-based lectures were created using a Sony Handycam digital camcorder and encoded using Real Networks RealProducer. Each lecture comprised five to nine modules with files sizes up to 20MB.

Two approaches were taken to encoding the materials. The first used RealProducer to combine graphics, text, video, slides and links into one package. However, this was dropped as most of the streaming video consisted of static PowerPoint slides and thus wasn't a good use of bandwidth, which was challenging at the time. The second approach was to embed the video and the PowerPoint slides into the LMS for easy access by students. These files were small but in reviewing the materials the students had to synchronize both video and PowerPoints and the only effective way was to view the video and then go through the PowerPoints. Students generally viewed the lectures at night rather than during the day when the LMS was slow to access.

A survey of students at the end of the semester indicated that 80% considered this satisfactory (with 20% indicating disappointment). The course videos were accessed 1.7 times per lecture per student. The highest number of accesses inevitably occurred just before the final examination. Only 28% of the students indicated that they would prefer this online format to face-to-face methods.

Mechatronics Associate Degree

Purdue University, Calumet and two area community colleges, Ivy Tech Community College and College of DuPage, have partnered with local industry in mechatronics apprenticeship programs.37 The associate degree program has been built up as a series of modules, where in addition to normal classroom-based learning, demonstrated prior learning and demonstrating competence can be used to attain credits.

In addition to the usual asynchronous methods of delivery of the course materials, synchronous Polycom technology is used for delivery of both lectures and labs. A full-time technician at each college assists with maintenance of the technology as well as the labs. Expensive commercial grade software (such as Rockwell Automation’s RSLogix and NI’s LabVIEW) was made available in remote labs using the Polycom system.

A Blended Approach–The “Inside Out” Method

California Polytechnic State University has been converting some of its programs to an online format (using what they refer to as the “Inside-Out” method), in particular, the course entitled Introduction to Manufacturing Process Design and Tool Engineering in 2010/11.38 As was pointed out, a challenge with online flexible learning is that the study tasks can be deferred indefinitely, and an effective solution has to be found here. Similarly, the more time that can be used by the students on their study tasks, the greater the level of learning.

The chosen approach was to break the traditional course material into 10 to 15 minutes of streaming video. Students downloaded four to five chunks per week (for a total of 50 videos recorded) using Panopto lecture capture software. They could then pause, review and focus on the different aspects of the lecture. This allowed a split-screen, simultaneous presentation of both the instructor (and a whiteboard) and class notes (which were annotated by the instructor).

Every week, there was a face-to-face meeting with the students and the instructor who essentially worked as a coach or mentor. An assignment was handed out and this had to be completed before leaving class, with a grade assigned. Students worked in groups on the problems collaboratively.

The weekly, three-hour traditional lab was unchanged.

The grade allocation was based around labs (25%), quizzes and assignments (25%) and two examinations (50%). Most of the student respondents enjoyed this format, with almost all videos being watched. Homework completion rates were 100% (compared to 85% to 95% in previous years), scores for assignments were higher and exam scores were equivalent or slightly higher with the new approach. Finally, the instructor found the course to be more enjoyable.

What would appear to be particularly powerful in this example is the use of face-to-face sessions for what they are really intended: tutorial and highly dynamic active learning in groups, rather than listening passively to a one-way lecture (often with 200 or more equally bored students).

US Study Center in France

Commencing in 2006, Grove City College, in a joint venture with the University of Nantes in France, established a dedicated study center for American students to study abroad for a complete semester.39 Two courses, Fluid Mechanics and Mechanics of Materials, were taught simultaneously at Grove City and France using DyKnow and GoToMeeting with Tablet PCs. DyKnow allows for collaborative note taking, anonymous polling and electronic uploading (and downloading) of assignments. GoToMeeting was used to deliver the PowerPoint presentations for Fluid Mechanics.

Two additional courses were taught locally (and conventionally) by a resident instructor. Delivery of the courses was from Tuesday to Thursday, thus allowing for student travel in Europe on the remaining days. The academic performance of students in France was equivalent to those in the USA, and some students improved on their earlier grades achieved in the USA (attributed to more immersion of the students at the French study center). The two online office hours (from the French-based students back to the USA) scheduled each week were initially used but in the second year of operation this facility was only intermittently used (but with no seeming impact on grades).

Some additional benefits were that students had to learn to do online presentations with PowerPoint remotely to an audience in both France and the USA, thus improving their skills in performing remote presentations. Finally, a major benefit of the experience was immersion in another culture and increased internationalization experience and in building up contacts in a foreign country but still remaining up to date with their academic peers in their home country’s degree program.

Aerospace Short Courses from the University of Kansas

The University of Kansas has presented short professional development courses in aerospace engineering (such as aircraft design, aircraft structures, flight control and avionics) in a face-to-face approach for the past 35 years throughout the world.40 Since 2003, a variety of online formats were experimented with varying degrees of success.

An initial course (Reliability and 1309 Design Analysis) was developed with slides and exercises with the recorded audio (and some video). The long lecture segments were developed using Realplayer media and took over 28 hours of lectures and three exercises. Interaction with the instructor was via emails. Problems encountered were with security and firewall issues (blocked delivery of the streaming lectures at work necessitating use of CDs). The website became outdated with minimal maintenance done and the materials were poor quality.

A second course on aircraft performance, Theory, Application and Certification, was launched in 2008 using the Adobe Creative Suite (with Flash) with short topics, and considerable effort put into animations and videos. Email was used as the key method of communication between students and instructor. However, the course development process was lengthy and expensive, bandwidth problems were experienced in some countries and an experienced Adobe Flash designer was required to fix some of the technical issues. However, 90% of the course evaluations were positive.

The first course on Reliability and 1309 Design Analysis was reworked in 2009 with a less expensive and time consuming process with no instructor videos and animations based around the Adobe online learning Suite (Dreamweaver, Soundbooth, Photoshop and Captivate). A reusable Adobe Captivate template was used where a junior designer could combine the audio, slides and simple animations for each segment of the course. Closed captions were used for the non-English speaking students. The Adobe Flash plug-in for the web browser allowed for easy uploading without high consumption of bandwidth. Quizzes were used for assessment and email was used for communications. Initial feedback was positive.

The upshot of the development of the courses above showed that simplicity and low bandwidth consumption are the key factors in preparing a course. There are some challenges in the future with mobile computing (iPad and iPhones) and the elimination of Flash from mobile browsers.

16.4  Chemical and Process Engineering

Blended Learning Experiences with a Plastics Processing Technology Course

A blended course was defined as any course where 25% to 50% of classroom face-to-face lectures are substituted with online learning (both synchronous and asynchronous). The Rochester Institute of Technology presented the Plastics Processing Technology course on Mondays and Wednesday evenings each for two hours with 15 students (in 2004/5).41 Desire2Learn was the underpinning LMS.

The Wednesday session was replaced with online group sessions (of three students each) undertaking problem solving, projects and discussions. Some overflow of online discussions occurred into the classrooms. Online quizzes were created to force the students to review the course material before the online discussions. The online discussions were carefully monitored by the instructor and a contribution made where appropriate.

A subsequent survey of students revealed that the modification to a blended course was valued by students in providing increased flexibility and in working in online groups considered an important professional skill. The perceptions of the learning experience in online discussions were mildly positive although with many more neutral responses. Most students disagreed with the statement that their learning interest improved with online discussions. It was considered vital that the instructor played a strong contributory role in online discussions. A final benefit of the blended course was the ease of reusing the online discussion topics, team structures and online content within the LMS.

Conversion of a Chemical Engineering Classroom Course to Blended Learning

A chemical materials science course was traditionally presented as a 14-week course with four lectures per week, and was then converted to a seven-week blended course for 16 students.42 The Blackboard LMS was used and learning units were created comprising introduction, a reading assignment, an online quiz, additional reading, a homework assignment and discussion questions.

The seven weeks was structured as follows: structures, crystallography and mass transport, mechanical behavior, mid-term exam, phase behavior and processing, environmental interactions and a final exam. Interwise web conferencing software was used to do presentations and to allow easy interaction between the lecturer and the students.

The virtual office hours facility that was set up to provide interaction between the lecturer and other students was not used much. The lecturer then used this time to record lectures using the Interwise web conferencing software. This enjoyed a positive response from students to ameliorate what they considered the limited face-to-face class time. A suggestion was made by one student to use the web conferencing software to present all the lectures and to refocus the classroom time for discussions on the difficult sections.

The final grades for the course showed no difference from previous courses. As was expected, students valued rapid instructor responses but one hour of classroom interaction was considered not enough.

Fortunately, the lecturer was familiar with the style of online presentation and had also prepared most of the materials (presentations, quizzes and readings), otherwise it would have been a huge task converting classroom materials to be suitable for online use. Uploading of course materials did take a significant time, around four to eight hours per week, with discussion questions taking an additional hour to administer.

Overall, the conversion to blended learning was considered a success, but many adjustments (as outlined above) would be made for the next course presented in this manner.

Chemical Engineering Video Presentations

The University of Tulsa experienced a 70% increase in new students in their chemical engineering course from 2006 to 2009 as employment in the oil related fields jumped.43 Apart from a shortage of staff, the classrooms and associated facilities were unable to physically cope with this increase. The ChE 1003 course is an introductory first-year course on programming in Excel and VBA, culminating in a design project where the students designed and ran their own experiments to control a chemical reaction. This was converted into a blended format. A weekly one-hour session with classroom instruction was combined with two hours per week of online instruction. The students were divided into three smaller groups of 12 students that met once per week for 50 minutes, focusing on the design project and student presentations.

The online component was built around 26 modules that comprised videos of each of the lectures with links to supplementary materials, online quizzes and assignments. Camtasia was used to record the videos (using Flash SWF files). Each lesson had an associated quiz (graded automatically) and an assignment. As there were inevitable doubts about honesty in the assignments, two in-class exams were also conducted.

Students were very positive about the experience, but inevitably the lessons were attended late at night and there was procrastination on the quizzes and assignments. Even the penalty of two points per overdue day was an insufficient motivator. The instructor was enthused with the experience and noted that there was no meaningful change in the student performance on the programming portion, and meeting in a classroom session in smaller groups was good in terms of the learning experience.

Preparation of the online course materials took considerably longer than for the classroom-based sessions. It is important to note the times taken to produce these lectures. A 50-minute lecture required an additional 20 minutes to prepare due to the software video conversion process to video, and time to create quizzes and assignments. It was felt that a more polished version of the videos was not necessary as the students appreciated the more conversational, natural presentation. Naturally, most of the lectures could be re-used (although upgrades to the Microsoft suite of software did require an upgrade to the videos in a subsequent year). Disadvantages included the lack of a direct audience for the instructor.

Improvements for 2009 included an additional optional classroom session for discussions on the difficult materials, and the penalty for late work has been increased to four points per day with a more connected way (“pestering” by instructor and also getting a buddy to encourage timely submissions) of getting the students to submit on time.

Improving Lab Preparation Skills with Videos

There were concerns about the lack of preparation of students undertaking lab sessions and a series of videos was created in 2008 to improve this.44 Students in organic chemistry at the University of New Haven were given short pre-lab videos just before commencing a particular lab session. There were 111 students from six separate sections (e.g. forensic science, chemistry and chemical engineering) in the group. It was hoped that better lab preparation meant everyone had a similar level of preparation, experiments could be conducted in a safer way and there would be a greater appreciation of the overall concept behind the experiment rather than being reduced to following mechanical procedural steps. Tegrity Campus, a web-based video service together with Blackboard, the LMS, was used to deliver the videos.

The lab sessions that were recorded varied in length from 18 to 30 minutes using PowerPoint slides supplemented by video and a narrative. Typical items built into the video demonstrated identification of glassware, equipment issues, variations from the text experiments and safety information. The students had to refer to the textbook simultaneously as this was referred to in the video. The useful feature of the videos is that they could be replayed and specific terms could be searched.

Feedback from students and lab assistants was positive and the videos were preferred to pre-lab lectures. The video visuals were considered to be superior to the drawings provided in the text. One important issue noticed was that the videos needed to be watched immediately prior to the lab, otherwise the students failed to retain the relevant information. There was also concern expressed by students about the inability to question the instructor during and immediately after the video. Some students felt that the videos created the (sometimes) false impression that the students knew more than they actually did.

There was no statistically significant change in the lab grades between the year students were using these videos and the previous year where they weren't used. It would be interesting to know how many students actually watched the videos and replayed them.

Undergraduate Course in Fluid Mechanics in Chemical Engineering

In Brazil, the Pontifical Catholic University of the Rio Grande do Sul-Av worked in conjunction with a petrochemical company (Braskem) in the presentation of an undergraduate course on Fluid Mechanics.45 The course was presented in a blended format based around videoconferencing (over satellite) and the WebCT LMS, with the classroom sessions (focusing on labs and assessments) being limited to 25% of the 60 course hours.

Every week, the students had a two-hour video conference or normal classroom session and the other two hours were conducted through the web in asynchronous mode. WebCT was useful to monitor a student’s progress as far as the number of visits per student, times of access, materials accessed and finally, viewing of contributions in terms of asynchronous discussions.

The course was broken down into eight modules (Fundamentals, Static Fluids, Mass Balance, Momentum Balance, Energy Balance, Flow Differential Analysis, Analysis and Viscous Flow). The communication tools such as email, discussion forums and live chat were excellent learning tools. All videoconferencing sessions were recorded and made available for later access.

Distance Learning in Undergraduate and Postgraduate Courses in Chemical and Process Engineering

The University of Strathclyde Department of Chemical and Process Engineering have created three distance learning courses based on the principles of industry participation, work-based assignment approach, collaboration between different companies, countries and universities.46 These three courses are a Bachelor of English in distance learning with a diploma or non-chemical engineering first degree, and two master’s degrees (MSc in Process Technology and Management and an MSc in Chemical Technology and Management).

Grant and Dickson suggest that the intensity of study is high when working on a person’s first degree and thereafter it tails off rapidly (especially after 35 years of age). There is no lifelone learning scenario for most professionals that encourages ongoing learning. They felt that industry wants team-based learning skills.

They have created what they call “supported distance learning”, based on high quality text-based materials, use of worked examples and assignment submissions with regular tutorials (which presumably depart from the distance learning format) at Strathclyde University. The mature age student is considered considerably better than school leaver entrants because of their greater industry experience and maturity. The strong emphasis on work-based assignments which have relevance to their organizations has made a significant difference to the results.

16.5  Information Technology (IT) and Computer Engineering

Corporate IT Training

Learningtree, the large US-based training provider in IT and management education with a claimed 1.9 million course participants since 1974, has had a few flirtations with online learning over the years.47 An earlier experiment was abandoned due to very little interest from their customers. However, in 2012 they claimed to be achieving excellent results (and presumably great enrolments) with their online learning current offering using a software package developed in-house called Anywhere™. While this software package is not a remote lab, it does allow remote access of the classroom and computer equipment for remotely located students.

As they point out, synchronous webinar-style online learning is not particularly effective as one is generally only listening to audio and watching static slides for limited periods of time. They note that this causes a remote student’s attention to wander to other perhaps more interesting activities such as email. To provide a true learning experience, a training program needs more than the hour or two that’s typically provided by a webinar. The other option of asynchronous online learning would appear to have considerable advantages such as low-cost, 24/7 availability at the student’s option. However, beyond a few hours it is not effective as it requires the student to have stamina and persistence to complete the course with the result that fewer than 25% of learners actually complete this form of training.

What the Learningtree Anyware™ model provides is the ability of students to participate in live classroom sessions from a remote location to the classroom. This means one sees the instructor presenting the materials and one can communicate directly with classmates and the instructor using the chat facility or by audio. The same exercises as those being worked on the classroom are undertaken by the remote student but via her computer to one in the classroom.

A few key practices have emerged from the initial work. Course participants receive all course materials (as well as a two-way headset) at least a week before the class commences. A system validation check has to be performed before the class and the day before, they test everything out with their instructor before the class commences. Considerable emphasis is placed on the instructor receiving training in how to present online especially concerning initiating conversations, addressing both online and in-class participants by name, keeping a high level of involvement in the discussions and in achieving a high level of feedback. Classroom sessions, including those attending online, typically ran over the full day.

Graduate Level Computer Engineering Course

DaSilva described teaching 149 students (a mix of on-campus and mature-age part-time) a graduate course in computer network architectures at eight locations throughout Virginia.48 Both synchronous and asynchronous modes of delivery were used. A final collaborative research project was carried out in groups of seven to ten students with each group scattered at multiple locations. The course was an in-depth one covering the IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.11, ATM and TCP/IP protocol suites.

It was taught once a week, in the evening, in two blocks of 1 hour and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute break using real-time, two-way video allowing for live interaction between students and instructor. All video was recorded and thus could be streamed by students on-demand. There was strong interaction during and after class and students were encouraged to collaborate between sites. The asynchronous methods that were used included a course website (lectures slides/assignments and solutions/previous and current exams and solutions and other resources), an online grade book (containing all marks for each individual student), a listserv for general announcements and for answering questions, an unlimited usage of email.

The vast majority of students (97%) responded to the end-of-course survey with some useful findings. Although attendance was not mandatory, 80% of students reported attending more than 80% of the live lectures. 60% of students apparently referred back to the streaming videos of the lectures later. On-campus students strongly preferred group-work to individual projects whereas off-campus mature age students were evenly divided on this score. It is suggested that off-campus students have more of a battle managing their work, personal and study lives and hence prefer individual projects. The biggest obstacle to completing the collaborative project was considered to be the distributed nature of the work, with poor communications between group members considered an important issue as well. A way to tackle this latter issue was to devote part of one of the interactive lectures to personal introductions from all the students (with a video of them showing who they were). The final grades were slightly lower for off-campus students and this may be due to the other competing demands and mature age students placing more emphasis on acquisition of knowledge and skills rather than on final grades.

Remote Internetworking Laboratory

A remote internetworking lab was set up in 2003 at the American University of Beirut.49 An average lab session, held weekly, lasted for more than two hours. The students can configure a number of network components in different topologies. The lab’s main objective is to demonstrate an application layer protocol and observe the packets transmitted. The students also learn how to configure Linux PCs and set them up as DHCP and NAT servers and to configure Cisco routers. Ethereal and tcpdump programs are used to monitor the network. Other tasks are to check the routing tables and perform Telnet sessions. Utilities such as ping and traceroute are used. The key network element, a switch, is used to connect the different devices in the topology required.

A remote user connects to the lab server through the internet. The lab server is physically connected to a 24-port switch, which is then physically connected to a Cisco 2522 router, 4 other routers and 4 Linux-based PCs. The Cisco 2522 router is connected to the console lines of the four other routers, allowing them to be remotely configured. An additional Ethernet card (with a static IP address) is installed in each of the Linux PCs allowing for their remote configuration. The Cisco router and the lab server all have static IP addresses allowing them to be remotely configured. The network switch allows for interconnecting the different devices dynamically via the creation of VLANs, thus allowing for a multitude of different topologies.

An ASP.NET web application was written in C# and, running on the lab server, allowed users to log in to the website, reserve an online lab session, conduct their experiments, and upload their lab reports. A MySQL database on the lab server stores users’ and experiment records (such as user passwords, scheduling of experiments and log in / log out records).

Students were enthusiastic about the lab and due to anticipated increased usage, additional sets of four PCs and four routers were set up. A suggestion was also made for collaborative work and experiments with other students and institutions.

Hybrid Online Learning for Computer Engineering and Computer Science

University College (part of Pennsylvania State University) has been impacted by the decline in IT-related subjects, resulting in smaller class sizes for computing engineering and computer science.50 They designed a hybrid online learning program based on asynchronous online learning courseware and synchronous webconferencing using Centra (and later Adobe Connect).

Although most of the programs were undergraduate, a small graduate-level electrical engineering program was presented to a small group of students overseas. The distance learning program was initiated with an introductory programming course in Computer Science (which met for three hours per week). This was the first one used using flexible delivery mode (comprising either synchronous or traditional face-to-face delivery) which was presumably delivered to all 12 campuses. An intermediate programming course and programming course for engineers was added to the offerings.

This schedule was gradually expanded on over the period Fall 2005 to Spring 2008 with the following results. A few test runs were required to get the academic faculty comfortable with the process. Students take up to three weeks to get comfortable with the synchronous delivery system and connecting from outside the campus. Overall class attendance increased by 15% to 20% because of the use of the optional online learning approach. Although difficult to check the validity or otherwise, most students (up to 70%) appeared to watch the recordings of the sessions either all the time or sometimes and regarded this as very useful (ahead of the ability to connect outside campus). They believe the best approach is to allow the students to undertake the classroom / synchronous online learning approach initially and then using synchronous and asynchronous online learning. A pre-assessment quiz is useful in reducing delivery time.

Dealing with Limited Bandwidth

A Middle Eastern Arab institution, Bethlehem University, located in the West Bank, had severe constraints on bandwidth (1MB/s internet connection for the entire campus) and a workaround solution was set up.51 Other constraints were limited availability of computers, limited funds and language difficulties. The first author (while based at Manhattan College in New York City) set up a distance learning course on Computer Architecture as a new major in the Computers and Information Systems department of the university.

The lectures were recorded using Camtasia Studio (TechSmith) producing videos, mainly of the PowerPoint presentations recorded on a tablet PC. Size was about 1MB/minute. Three hours of video were prepared per week and uploaded to the author's personal website (with other supporting documents). These were then downloaded by the technician at Bethlehem University, during off peak times, for access by the 36 students (in 2006). Moodle was used for posting grades, assignments and other documents.

A local faculty member in Bethlehem met with the class once per week to ensure continued tight liaison. All the students passed the subject with the majority of the grades being B or B+. A recommendation from the students was to reduce the lengthy videos (typically 75 minutes each) to a more manageable size. A traditional face-to-face lecture with the same students completed after the online course resulted in lower grades, which was thought to be due to the fact that during the distance learning course, the students had to be more self-reliant thus resulting in better grades.

Engineering Learning Objects

Within the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, short videos of approximately 5 to 10 minutes each (referred to as Learning Objects) were delivered to classroom-based students.52 The platforms used were iTunes University and YouTube with Moodle as the LMS. Recording was done using Camtasia Relay. Learning objects are typically small units of learning in two-to 15-minute chunks. A learning object can be considered, "to be an independent and self-standing unit of learning content that is predisposed to reuse in multiple instructional contexts". They should contain an objective, a learning activity and an assessment.

The first course converted to the learning object format was Circuit Measurements, taught in the third year to transfer students from community colleges. Topics included Error Analysis, Ohm's and Kirchoff's Laws, Nodal Analysis, Superposition and Source Transformation and Frequency Analysis. It comprised ten one-hour lectures, with each lecture followed by two hours of lab work. Lab work was based around use of Multisim. 23 learning objects were identified and PowerPoint slides were created for the non-computer-based learning ones. Assessments that included homework assignments, lab reports and exam questions were built around each learning object. Camtasia Relay (from TechSmith) and a high quality microphone (Revolabs) was used to record the videos.

An attempt to reduce time spent in creating videos was to use a live classroom lecture to also do the recording, but this delivered inadequate quality as only a part of the lecture involved PowerPoints. When the instructor was at the blackboard or discussing an issue with students the recording was poor and at the same time there were no active PowerPoints to show. In addition, the resultant recording at 75 minutes was simply too long. The optimum recording especially for the current generation of students should be a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes.

An alternative strategy of recording a learning object using a tablet was also considered unacceptable as the quality of writing was too poor to be seen on YouTube or the iTunes University webpage.

As a result, 23 learning objects were created using PowerPoint 2007, Visio 2007 for drawings and Multisim to create the circuits with an average time of two hours per video (with two remakes to get the best one). Most of the time was spent creating slides and animation of bullets or objects. Each learning object commenced with an appropriate problem with one or two learning activities. The concept was that the students would pause the video at the problem, try and solve it themselves and then view the remainder of the video.

The 16 students who had completed the course indicated that they had watched on average eight of the 23 videos. There was some doubt expressed as to whether the videos had helped the students improve their grades. Students were, however, enthusiastic about the use of the videos. In future classes, it was planned to add in a more formal assessment (posted on Moodle) required to be completed by students after each video to ensure that they do actually watch the videos.

An Open Source Course Content Server

Purdue University, Calumet built a server-based course content on three open source components: The Linux operating System, the content management system (Drupal) and a relational database management system, MySQL.53 The Drupal content management system maintains all content in a database. A typical course (e.g. Structured C++ Programming) comprises lectures, assignments, syllabus outline, examination details, class discussion, labs and a student's electronic portfolio. The lectures comprised audio together with a video of the screen using Huelix Screen-Play recorder. This was recorded in Windows Media Format (WMV). 20 courses (in 2010) were available 24/7 in an asyronchous format.

Fundamentals of Network Security in a MSc Information Security

The Fundamentals of Network Security (FNS) was developed by the Cisco Networking Academy and run as an embedded course with the MSc in Information Security for Anglia Polytechnic University, UK.54 The students were technically competent with professional experience in the IT industry. The course comprised both static and dynamic content. The static content was generally of web pages with embedded PDFs, Microsoft Word and Excel documents. The dynamic components were animations, simulations, audio and video sessions.

The labs were oriented mainly towards configuring switches, routers and other IT technologies. The labs could be conducted either locally or remotely using remote lab technology. The remote lab hardware and software was sourced from the Network Development Group (netdevgroup.com). This is unexpected, as it would have been expected that work-busy students would have preferred this time.

Interestingly enough, the lowest usage of the online activity was during weekends, when it would have been expected that work-busy students would have preferred. Over 75% of the students indicated that the greatest disadvantage to this course was the lack of face-to-face contact. It was suggested that some form of videoconferencing would make this easier.

Online assessments consisted of multiple choice questions while the offline examinations had to be conducted at the university. The offline assessment contributed 65% and online assessment contributed 35% to the final module mark. Labs were not included as part of the assessment process. There was no significant success in running online discussion forums. Overall, student success rate was 70% with an average of 67% and with a total of 65 students over three years (2004).

A Programming Course at the University of West Florida

A few lessons that were learned included:55

• Provide multiple methods of interaction to tie in with the different students’ learning needs and styles. This could include elements as diverse as discussion forums, chat rooms, synchronous web conferencing for tutorials and office hours and a pager tool (to touch base with an instructor in a more ad hoc way). Elluminate was used effectively to show the design, implementation and testing of programs live online and made for a great learning experience.

• Use breakout rooms with Elluminate to let students collaborate in smaller groups of two to four.

• Ensure there are regular requirements for graded assignments (preferably every week) especially for those students who have other work or personal commitments.

• Continually measure the student’s individual performance from interaction and assignment marks and take immediate corrective action.

• Provide ongoing immediate and detailed feedback to all students as soon as possible after assignments have been submitted.

• Encourage feedback from students and apply this as soon as possible to improvements to the course.

Undergraduate Distance Education Engineering Programs in North Carolina

North Carolina State University’s College of Engineering has had a strong tradition of provision of distance learning.56 In 1995, the key distance education methodology was the video-based engineering education (VBEE) program. Over the period 1985-95, the VBEE program provided 524 courses to over 6500 students, with the Master of Engineering being a key offering. Typical programs included five undergraduate courses, a computer science certificate program and a Bachelor of Engineering focusing on nuclear engineering. There was initially one site-based 2+2 year Bachelor of Engineering undergraduate program (the first two years at a community college and the last two years at the University of North Carolina, Raleigh). This model was subsequently extended to other community colleges in North Carolina.

The challenges have included registration with different institutions, academic calendars, scheduling of courses and access to common technology platforms. For example, although the 58 colleges in the community college system have moved to the same calendar, the 16 campuses in the University of North Carolina are different. Other problems included getting instructors at the different campuses to be prepared for presentations, driving students to return homework assignments and tests in a timely fashion and to interface regularly with their students.

Application of Cognitive Load Theory to Improving a Programming Class

It should be noted that the conscious data you hold in your working memory is generally linked together in chunks. For example, if you are thinking of the collection of four stars forming the Southern Cross, you are likely to recall it as one chunk. You certainly don’t remember in the recall of the Southern Cross each individual star’s location and its brightness. It would be nigh on impossible to hold each individual star component’s information in your memory and there is no need to.

Cognitive load theory helps to optimize learning and assumes that information is stored in long term memory only once it has been properly integrated in working memory into a mental structure which represents the schema of the material.57 It is based on the premise of the following cognitive loads that act on a learner:

Intrinsic Cognitive Load. All learning materials have an intrinsic difficulty associated with learning it. For example with programming this includes loops, logical tests, arrays and function.

Extraneous Cognitive Load. This load is created by the way the information is presented to learners. This could include text editors, compilers and operating systems.

Germane Cognitive Load. This load occurs for the, “processing, construction, and automation of schemata necessary to integrate knowledge into consciousness”.57 For example, this refers to numerical algorithms in computational mechanics.

It was suggested for complex material, bearing in mind that intrinsic load cannot be modified, that the extraneous cognitive load should be minimized whilst the germane cognitive load should be maximized.

A course on C programming for mechanical engineering students was modified applying this theory. The existing class (prior to Fall 2006) was a face-to-face lecture in a workstation lab with the instructor demonstrating his code line-by-line to the students who would then work on their code in separate lab sessions. The class was modified to a blended one with distance learning used to minimize the extraneous load and scaffolding used to maximize the germane cognitive load. Scaffolding was used to focus on the more interesting and applied topics of the algorithm rather than the syntax. Something more motivating for engineering students and suitable for maximizing the germane load. This approach was enhanced further by motivating the student further with film clips from topics such as Finite Element Methods and Computational Fluid Mechanics explaining why the various algorithms were critical to their disciplines.

Horizon Wimba web conferencing software was used with application sharing (both within the classroom and while at home). This allowed the instructor to dynamically take control of student PCs and demonstrate aspects of programming to the entire class. A consistent programming environment for all students was used to the server on campus and thus reduced the extraneous load with one consistent operating system, compiler and text editor.

The course redesign resulted in improved grades (by 40%) and due to the movement to distance learning, enrolment restrictions were overcome as labs were not required any longer.

Collaborative Project-based Learning

California State University Los Angeles implemented a remote project-based learning environment using the OPNET simulation software for networking and data communications courses.58 This was based around the collaborative project-based learning model which has the key attributes of peer collaboration, small in-class projects to ensure a steady build up of student design skills and immediate feedback from instructors.

The results indicated that remote access for students was valued (especially since many of them were working), the project-based approach has improved understanding of concepts, the lectures need to be more closely aligned with the projects and more timely feedback and assistance should be provided to students (varied according to their skill level). Other challenges with improving the experience included dealing with intermittent technical problems with the server, some team members did all the work and counseling and training in working in a team were required and a better balance was required between projects and lectures.

Bringing Distance Learning Technology into the Classroom

A scenario where web conferencing software is used effectively in a classroom on each individual student's computer is outlined here.59 The usual approach in teaching a programming course is to have lectures and associated lab sessions. In this modified approach, two instructors are involved in the classroom session. One instructor delivered the materials using the Centra web conferencing software while the other assisted students with technical difficulties on their computers.

As a support, the ANGEL course management system was used to distribute the course resources, quizzes, assessments and recordings of sessions. The students were formed into teams to work together on assignments and classroom activities. Before the first lecture of each week, the students are required to take a readiness quiz.

The instructor used the web conferencing software to present the PowerPoint slides and to share the various student's work (using application sharing) with others in the class. In this way, the instructor can easily make improvements to a student's work and show others what is being done. Each lecture segment comprised about 10 to 15 minutes and was then followed by in-class exercises.

They made a few comments about their experiences:

• Time to develop this type of course is considerably more than for a classroom-based one.

• Test runs are required to smooth out problems.

• Students take a few weeks to get familiar with this new approach.

• Those students who participated fully enjoyed an improvement in their grades compared to previous years.

• This highly interactive and team teaching approach should replace the traditional lecture approach.

16.6  Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear Engineering Technology Online Courses

There has been continuing growth in Excelsior College's online offering in this area with growth over 16 months increased by almost six times (to nearly 50 students in 2006).60 It is strongly recommended that students are provided with an online orientation (especially to the course management system) before commencing with the course. Other suggestions are to ensure a solid administrative infrastructure, faculty should be able to effectively teach in an online environment and course design and interaction are key elements in achieving satisfied students.

Nuclear Engineering Synchronous Learning and Labs

The Nuclear Engineering Department at the University of Tennessee offered three graduate programs to distance students: MS Degree in Nuclear Engineering, a Graduate Certificate Program in Nuclear Criticality Safety and a Graduate Certificate program in Maintenance and Reliability engineering.61 The Advanced Monitoring and Diagnostic Techniques course was the first to be offered online in 2000 using Centra Symposium software. The master’s curriculum was identical to that offered to that presented on-campus. All courses were presented synchronously and were simultaneously recorded for students who missed the presentations.

The Centra synchronous software possessed the usual features such as electronic whiteboard, audio over the internet and VCR playback of recorded sessions. In addition, there were online notes, quizzes and discussion boards for students and faculty. The instructors used the standard three methods of presenting with a synchronous software package: PowerPoints, electronic whiteboard and sharing of programs.

The initial class sizes were small–six distance students and six local on-campus students. A useful feature added was a number of SMART Board systems that allowed for simultaneous presentation by the instructor to both the classroom-based and the distance-based students using a touch sensitive whiteboard which acted as an interface to a web-connected PC. Three types of labs were provided for the distance learning students: remote labs using National Instrument’s LabVIEW internet development kit based around a vibration simulator, a virtual lab using simulation software and a “mail-out” lab (a so-called “laboratory in a shoebox”). The feedback to date on the course has been excellent and the student enrolment has increased by 25%.

Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Engineering

Virginia Tech re-initiated its Nuclear Engineering program in 2007 and grew the enrolment from 60 students to over 200 by 2009.62 Initially, live video conferencing was provided to remote sites; however, students still indicated difficulties with travel and accessing these high bandwidth broadcasts. The majority of students were not nuclear engineers but a spread of (amongst others) mechanical, electrical, structural and chemical engineers. An interesting observation was that only half the remote students were interested in achieving a graduate certificate (as opposed to a full master’s degree).

Sakai Scholar was used as the LMS with discussions forums, chat rooms, assignments, announcements, lessons, grades, quizzes and grades available. Centra was used for synchronous web conferencing for tutoring and provision of office hour sessions. Camtasia was used to create course videos and combined with PowerPoints available in pdf format. An industry standard textbook (Introduction to Nuclear Engineering by Lamarsh and Baratta) together with supplementary materials was used.

Office hour sessions were recorded for wider consumption with the assessment comprising two or three weekly quizzes and homework problems with quick feedback. The final exam was a comprehensive “take-home” one.

Overall, student feedback indicated satisfaction with the non-English speakers experiencing some difficulties. Improvements were mooted to the structure of the online forums and ways explored of transferring knowledge from those students with considerable industry experience to the others.

Blended Nuclear Undergraduate Education with Labs

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of the few institutions remaining that has both a low-power nuclear reactor as well as a linear accelerator for teaching purposes.63 A blended course was created using the Blackboard LMS, Mediasite (a video streaming software package) and Adobe Connect, a web conferencing tool with a specific goal of allowing remote participants to access the labs. The video streaming software, Mediasite, synchronizes the video and slide presentations. The United States Military Academy at West Point did not have any nuclear labs so their students attended the Rensselaer labs either in person (~2.5 hour trip) or remotely. The online units provided considerable flexibility in the style of presentation for reactor physics, criticality safety and radiation dosimetry-based topics.

Each unit comprised readings with worked assessments, a self-assessment quiz, lecture materials and student notes, experiment specifications and data analysis requirements resulting in a lab report, and a discussion forum. All the theoretical modules could be delivered online and the hands-on lab components either required real-time participation physically or through a remote hookup.

Rensselaer's Critical Facility was an open pool reactor using low enrichment fuel pins. Five remotely operable video cameras were installed as well as videoconferencing. Full reactor operation was allowed from a remote location. Rensselaer also has a 60MeV linear electron accelerator that would be used with targets to act as an intense pulsed neutron source.

16.7  Civil Engineering

Master’s Degree in Construction Management

The Department of Building Construction Management in the College of Technology at Purdue University had a rather poor response to their master’s degree in construction management program in 1990 with only a few students graduating.64 This was due to the fact that industry did not pay a higher salary to students with master degrees; the industry enjoyed full employment and graduates were not willing to give up their full-time jobs to study on-campus.

The future has changed since then with more industry enthusiasm for a distance learning approach. A master’s degree in Construction Management was crafted around the following elements:

• Synchronous web conferencing delivery using Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional.

• Blackboard LMS, used to post assignments and upload completed homework.

• Classes ran from 7pm to 9.30pm Eastern Standard Time.

• Students were required to visit campus during the first week of each semester to liaise with faculty (and update themselves on the technology).

• A student should complete the course within 21 months.

A Wacom Cintiq 20WSX pen enabled display with a 20-inch color LCD monitor was used (together with microphone and headset) by the instructor.

The planned enrolment is for 24 distance students (and some residential students). Overall, the program was considered a success although challenging for those instructors who had to jump from using a chalkboard into online presentations. In addition, actual graduations have been rather slow, so more effort has to be put into prioritizing academic deadlines in the minds of the remotely located students.

Some Further Challenges as Time Went On with the Masters Degree in Construction Management

The Master of Science degree in Construction Management presented through Purdue University is presented synchronously for the lectures but the project itself requires self-paced independent work and there have been difficulties with class members in completing this.65 Even building in written assignments due each week to provide pacing for the course had no impact on the completion rate. A change was thus made to require the students to submit a paper to a journal instead of engaging in the project.

A few further suggestions as a result of this experience were:

• Distance Education students are normally mature age and thus very busy with family and career activities.

• Care should be taken to ensure there is sufficient time for students.

• Structure should be provided to students so that they are not overwhelmed with academic overload.

• Academic writing requirements for construction managers should not be too open-ended and have context within the construction industry.

Comparison Between Distance Learning vs. Classroom-based Graduate Level Civil Engineering Course

The comparison between students at a top civil engineering school in the USA revealed minimal differences in a graduate level course.66 Over two thirds of the students were international students who were mainly engaged in either a master’s in Construction Management or Civil Engineering degree program. The course comprised 15 sessions and a final examination session with six to eight homework assignments. The lectures were streamed live to distant students with optional recordings that could be viewed at another time. Exams were proctored at local testing centers.

Scores were compared between both groups of students for homework, midterm exam, term project and final exam with very similar grading from 2006 to 2008 (with distance students on average about 3% lower). Homework grades were generally lower for distance students due to the lack of access to on-campus tutors.

Fiber Composites Course for Civil Engineers

In 2008, the first online course on fiber composites for civil engineers was created at the University of Southern Queensland using Moodle.67 The key resources used were online discussion and quizzes, online lectures, videos and assignments. The results over the four years subsequent to 2008 were examined with a few observations. There was solid growth in numbers (7 to 23) sourced from throughout Australia. The preponderance of undergraduates in 2011 resulted in poor results (many with only a passing grade). Postgraduate students (often working in industry) were shown to be generally more self-motivated to complete the course to a high level.

Civil Engineering Statics Course

A useful study in preparing a distance learning lesson study for a civil engineering statics course was detailed.68 A lesson study is where a group of instructors take a short lesson over one class period and refine it to optimize it for use by multiple instructors. There are three specific objectives here in undertaking a lesson study. The first is to understand how students learn. The second is to create a database of useful lessons for use by other teachers. The final objective is to improve teaching through collaboration between different instructors. The distance learning course was presented in an university to classes scattered across 13 campuses using Microsoft Livemeeting. Students could see the instructor’s computer screen via the internet connection and had audio streamed in through the telephone connection. Once the instructing team prepared the lesson, the course was then presented and the students observed to understand the learning that occurred together with the students’ reactions to the presentation. The lesson was then analyzed to examine whether the learning objective was achieved; how the lesson could be improved and finally, what did the instructors learn from the experience. The process was then repeated and the lesson refined.

A combination of explanation of theory, hands-on experiments and interactive problem solving was used in the presentation. However, significant difficulties were found in the actual presentation with the students following the instructions and building the Tinker Toy models to be used to demonstrate inertia. The students couldn’t relate this to the tables in the book and finally, many of the students didn’t come to class prepared (and even forgot to bring their textbooks which were a key part of the course). Furthermore, students were not attentive to the presentation.

As an aside, it could be argued that this is not necessarily an appropriate use of distance learning when it is to students who are not mature age students, and are listening to the presentations in groups at each campus so are easily able to get up to mischief.

As a result of the poor student experience, a few changes were made to the lesson. The lesson was shortened, theory was minimized (and transferred to an earlier presentation) and the focus was placed on the experiments and calculations. The Tinker Toy models (with appropriate colors) were tied in closer to the theory using the colors. Finally, all textbook references were built into the presentation to avoid problems with students forgetting their course materials.

In presenting the course again, there were still problems with lack of student engagement and consideration was given to providing the students with a quiz and force them to take notes by leaving gaps in the notes. There was no doubt that lessons and activities delivered over the internet take longer than the same presentation in a face-to-face session.

Articulation From Vocational Community-based Colleges to Universities

A common problem throughout the world is the difficulty in moving to a university program, and securing full credit for the courses successfully taken at a community college.69

It is not easy to get full credit at a university engineering program for the community-based college courses focusing on the vocational technology side with an associate degree as the result. A few community courses in drafting and electronics might be credited, but the remainder aren’t that acceptable to a university. As most of these students attending the community college are often mature age students, it is difficult for them to commute or attend the university programs full-time. Hence, a distance learning format is often the best solution provided it is economically viable with sufficient students and the program is of a high enough quality. The lab requirements have been dealt with, in the one particular case quoted in this paper, by requiring students to do two weekends at the campus of California State University Fresno and a half weekend at a local (to the student) testing house.

Another example of the articulation problems from a vocational community college to that of a university was noted at the University of Indiana, Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and this was resolved using videos to view the labs.70 Here the degree program in civil engineering technology and construction technology had four lab courses: fundamentals of surveying, soils testing, materials testing and construction surveying where the complete lab components were unable to be run at the associated community colleges to IUPUI due to inadequate equipment.

A solution to this problem was to feed live video from the university testing labs to the community colleges and to be incorporated within their traditional lecture-based classes. The students were able to control the cameras during the lab sessions and thus had some control of the observation process.

Two methods of increasing the interactivity were to get the remote class to send in their lab requirements (e.g. a concrete recipe) to the resident technicians and to interact with her as she performed the experiment. The second approach was to create teams comprising local and remote students to perform the experiments using the university LMS to interact and chat, initially in planning the experiment, then carrying it out and finally in producing a lab report. One spin-off from the creation of these recorded videos was as a study tool for students to prepare for their labs.

16.8  Mining Engineering

Engineering Diploma for Quarry Managers

A Diploma for Quarry Managers has been developed which combines a number of elements, including web and interactive resources that have been sourced from both staff of The Illawarra Institute as well as from industry. This course is supposedly unique with no one else offering it at present. The learners have a very high degree of motivation. They require the diploma in order to run a quarry in New South Wales, Australia. The traditional classroom sessions would require 10 to 12 hours of classroom attendance per week over three years to cover 19 subjects. About half of the course participants are graduate engineers and the remainder from a variety of technical backgrounds. Many were delighted with the opportunity to attend this course via distance learning.

There is a one week face-to-face orientation in which the techniques of being an independent web-based learner are outlined. Students liaise with instructors by email, but these are supplemented by two-hour chat sessions over two nights at two different times of 6pm and 8pm because of different time zones for students. An online help desk accessed via email is maintained, to provide advice and counseling. Besides instructors there is also an on-site mentor or assessor. The essential approach with the course is to work through a detailed checklist with a list of competencies listed; and the resultant evidence required to demonstrate this competency.71

Mining Engineering Technology Bachelors Program goes Online

The traditional Mining Engineering Technology bachelor’s degree at Bluefield State College was extended to students with web-based distance learning.72 Their current Course Management System (CMS) was based on Moodle. Drawings are a key part of the course and a Tablet PC was used to mark them up and the CMS used to transfer them between instructor and student. Presentations by students on mining operations design and planning are required to be delivered by a web conferencing package such as Go To Meeting, Live-Scribe or Team Speak. Virtual workgroups would use the CMS chat rooms with due regard for security. Real-time exams were conducted on a particular program with a limited amount of time using an limited scope CAD program (AutoCad).

There was concern about inappropriate students undertaking the course (with no computer experience and limited self motivation), students believing that the course is easier than the standard classroom delivery, the importance of a suitable induction program to these new technologies and approaches and the need for a marketing plan to attract at least 50 students to make the program economically viable.

16.9  Miscellaneous

Blended Online Engineering Technology course

The University of Dayton (Engineering Technology faculty) used online learning to improve the students’ results for an Engineering Economy course during the summer vacation period when they were away from the residential university.73 The traditional way was to hand out assignments that the student would then work through over the summer vacations. Due to the limited interaction between instructor and students, the results of completing assignments were poor. Considerable self-discipline was required to complete the work.

Interwise ECP Connect software was used with live streaming and interactive video and audio over the internet. The application sharing and whiteboard features were critical. A number of methods were used to communicate with the remotely located students. A class schedule was posted on the course website every week which included the following times for:

• Attendance at mandatory online classes, where the instructor solved sample problems.

• Optional online tutorial sessions–one hour per week to discuss the assignments.

• Homework assignments to be submitted by midnight on Thursday every week.

• Online quizzes and exams–students could take the quiz twice within 24 hours with two high-speed exams (to deter cheating) using an open book approach.

• Threaded discussion assignments and extra credit for a greater contribution here.

The results were a definite improvements to the students’ results mainly as a result of the dramatically increased interaction between instructor and students. There was no discernible difference in the learning in an online class against that of a traditional residential classroom. Threaded discussions were a great way of setting up learning communities.

There were some problems with significant delays in audio and video being experienced between instructor and student during the synchronous presentations which was unacceptable, but presumably this problem has now been fixed.

There is an important remark that online learning is definitely not for everyone. Students must take responsibility for their learning and must still be self-disciplined about attending the sessions and doing the work.

Community Colleges and Universities Collaboration

A further opportunity with provision of online learning is to provide lectures remotely to community colleges that have students keen to extend themselves beyond their two-year associate degrees to a full four-year engineering degree.74 The community college university labs can be used for the practical portion of the course. This is effectively what was done with Eastern Washington University (EWU) and North Seattle Community College (NCSS) in combining to provide an engineering degree.

Recommendations that made for a successful partnership included ensuring all classes are interactive for all students, provision of a university lecturer to NSCC to assist with the operation of the on-site lab, all course material being made available to all students and overnight document delivery between sites. A review after the first year of the partnership indicated satisfaction and an increase in numbers to 18 students (with 15 the minimum required).

Online Tutoring and Mentoring

An innovative application of synchronous online learning is tutoring specifically targeted at children helping them with their academic growth, especially of use in those areas where it is difficult to find qualified instructors. This methodology is applicable to engineering students. There are five services that are listed, namely Brainfuse, vTutor (Elluminate), Smarthinking, Tutor and eSylvan. Typical subjects include reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies for students in grade 3 to college. There is flexibility in the hours in which they offer these services. The one package, Smarthinking, has a very sophisticated whiteboard offering many sophisticated mathematical tools for drawing equations and plotting graphs.

Tutoring one-on-one, especially using web conferencing software, would be great to apply for mentoring of engineers and technicians working in the field far away from support.

When Things Don’t Work Out

A few courses from a traditional classroom-based degree program at Minnesota State University at Mankato were put online. The video recorded the face-to-face lectures and converted them so that they could be streamed over the internet. The assignments were supplemented with a regular weekly quiz to ensure the students didn’t put off their work for too long. Other challenges were students not having their computers set up correctly, handling student assignment submissions which were in a variety of formats, managing the enormous number of individual queries from students and in minimizing risk in ensuring there was no copying/cheating or plagiarism with assignments, examinations and quizzes. The amount of time required of the instructor was considerably more than for a normal classroom session; mainly as the instructor also had to film and edit presentations to a high level of quality.

However, there were enormous challenges with problems with copyright in streaming videos on the web and obtaining permission was quite protracted. There was an apparent problem with copyright in re-using old instructor’s materials and also in adjusting them to the new instructor’s details.

Eventually, it was decided to revert to the old format of classroom sessions due to the massively increased costs and time of the online approach. Students also indicated a preference for traditional face-to-face classrooms although many commented on the flexibility and ease of reviewing online lectures multiple times. They found that the grades were similar for both online and classroom sessions although some online students didn’t do as well; this could be mainly ascribed to less laboratory experience and limited interaction.75

Blending Learning for Undergraduate Engineering Degree Program

A joint engineering program between the University of Kentucky and Murray State University had a distance of 50 miles separating the campuses with attendant lengthy commuting for some of the faculty.76 As a blended alternative to commuting for two days per week, Elluminate was used one day per week to present the lectures (mechanical engineering). There was a slight irritation with different programs used for annotating Microsoft PowerPoint slides and the Elluminate whiteboard slides and having to combine them again into one pdf file. This was resolved by annotating the same file whether teaching face-to-face or online (and performing Elluminate application sharing) using Windows Journal.

The engineering faculty felt that this blended approach was excellent as it dispensed with the waste of a few hours on the road commuting. If there were any awkward issues that couldn’t be dealt with using the online approach, they could catch up at the next face-to-face session. The online lessons before an examination were also extremely well attended and highly interactive.

The two student groups were split in terms of their opinion of the efficacy of the medium. The one who attended traditional classes wasn’t enthused and felt that it was harder to concentrate. Some of the technical issues such as poor audio and inadequate PC hardware made it a less than pleasant experience.

The non-traditional students who were trying juggle work and family commitments found this medium extremely useful and powerful.

It is not clear how long the lectures were using Elluminate but 45 minutes to 60 minutes should be the maximum. If the lectures are longer than this, then there would be definite interactive and concentration problems on the part of the student.

Managing Different Cultures

An analysis was performed on a group of students from the disciplines of architecture, engineering and construction management from a wide variety of countries ranging from the US and Japan to Asia and Europe to design a building according to a client’s specifications.77

When different cultures work and study together, there are some nuances worth knowing about and then adapting the instruction appropriately. An effect that we see often in our distance learning presentations to different cultures is the instructor and learners adapting their individual styles to create a third way to optimize their communications. We were a little bemused when an Australian instructor doing a series of one-hour synchronous presentations and frustrated at the lower level of understanding from a class of American students (scattered around the USA) had adapted to an American accent by the second presentation. He found he fitted in more and achieved greater understanding.

The importance of instant messaging is often underrated. Here, all groups were using it on a regular basis and preferred it to a web conferencing package’s audio and video. This is especially true of groups who are from a non-English background. One can see echoes of this with people in every day life who in using their mobile phones prefer to text each rather than to call. The suggestion was made that it may even be faster to text rather than to call due to the time it takes to comprehend speech. The English speakers often naturally reduced their speech speed to accommodate non-English speakers. Some cultures were rather cautious about contributing too much to discussions. For example, the Swiss participants contributed far less than the Americans.

Finally, time is not considered a major issue in many Asian countries (e.g. East Asians) whereas for the Dutch it is of major import. It was observed that despite this, the Asians were far quicker in responding to emails than the Dutch.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning in one Seamless Package

Most examples of online learning tend to focus strongly on one approach or the other. However, the approach from Christopher Newport University applies both in equal measure using one software package (Web-4M).78 The package comprises nine communication and collaboration tools: Whiteboard, interactive slide show, chat, audio, multicast chat, email, student logs, document sharing / posting and calendar.

The instructor sets up a permanent room where the class can always meet. Two other types of rooms are so-called “annexes”, which any student can create for temporary meetings, and “hideouts” where only invited participants can join in. The multicast (or “Yo”) feature allows one to call other users on the system. A notification pops up on the recipient’s screen and together with an audio notification, they are alerted that a message has arrived or that they are invited to a session. The browseable document library allows students to view documents uploaded to the library in a variety of formats (such as gif, jpeg, pdf and mpeg).

Most of the features provided are fairly typical of a standard synchronous web conferencing package apart from a few useful features such as “stealth mode”, in which an instructor can monitor a chat room without being noticed and can monitor the document library that is a central storage location for all documents. Another useful feature is for the instructor to set up “virtual office hours” and stay logged in with Web-4M. Students can see him and use the less intrusive chat facility to communicate or, indeed, use the whiteboard and audio if necessary. No video has been included due to the concerns about bandwidth constraints. It was proposed to add in both synchronous questions (with a histogram reporting the results) and asynchronous (including timed) exams with different question types such as true / false, multiple choice, numerical, essay and survey.

Unfortunately there is no mention of the success or otherwise with this tool with real classes at the university. A few years ago, this tool’s advantage was the seamless combination of both synchronous and asynchronous features; however most users today would use a fairly sophisticated Learning Management System and synchronous online learning package to achieve similar results.

An Engineering Teamwork Course for Distance Learners

The team engineering course is a compulsory unit in the Open University’s (UK) Integrated Masters Degree in Engineering.79 The objectives are that at the conclusion of the course, students as part of a team will have demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively, develop a plan for a personal contribution to the group project, negotiate and comment critically on their personal role in the group and, naturally, work effectively within a team.

There were two tools that were used extensively in each team as part of this course. This was Flashmeeting (developed by the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute), allowing voice, videoconferencing and text chat to all participants and the recording of each session. In addition, each team used a series of wikis, one of which allowed overall access by the team and one providing only individual private access for each member. The wiki was used to place such items as meeting agendas, minutes, task allocations and project journals and often became a shared document repository. These wikis were accessed by the course tutors to gauge progress but their use was rather fractured depending on the particular team, as to level of use.

An initial residential weekend was set up so that the teams could be formed and the essential parameters for the course could be detailed. The course was concluded with another residential weekend for presenting the group project.

Two important principles adhered to in the assessment of the course were that everything was determined as part of a team. The achievement of each team member was assessed through their personal reflection on the team process and their tutor's observations.

The conclusions drawn from this course were that:

• Teamworking learning outcomes can be undertaken in the distance learning environment with minimal face-to-face interaction.

• The recording features of Flashmeeting and wikis provide an excellent and transparent way of assessing students.

• Sadly, some students don't like a group assessment and feel it is unfair.

There are an enormous number of free or low-cost collaborative documentation packages (such as those from Google) that could be used in place of the wiki. One question that still remains unanswered was whether students who cannot meet face-to-face are able to form strong working relationships.

Blended Learning is the Way to Go

An application was detailed where classroom sessions were systematically converted into a blended learning offering for postgraduate control system education.80 This used Centra software with whiteboard, graphics tablet or Tablet PC for pen input. The course was structured using a mix of synchronous and asynchronous online learning (downloadable recordings), all supported by a Learning Management System (or as they refer to it here, a Course Management System called ANGEL from Penn State University).

The Tablet PC was considered essential for the Stochastic Control Systems course delivery due to the need for accurate drawing of formulas and graphs. The loss of animation in converting the PowerPoint slides to images within the Centra (or indeed Adobe Connect) web conferencing software was a problem and the Windows Journal Viewer (and later Windows OneNote) was used for these portions using the application sharing facility within the web conferencing package. Some of the issues identified during the design and delivery process were:

• Blended courses with their specific requirements detailed should be clearly promoted to students to avoid confusion.

• Support and training in the use of the new technologies for both instructors and students should be substantial to avoid dissatisfaction.

• The course requirements should clearly detail the structure of the course and the particular requirements on students for both the synchronous and asynchronous components.

• The actual live lecture should be objective, have interactive discussions every 15 minutes and include appropriate measures of learning.

• The estimated design time for each hour of lecturing was estimated to be four to six hours.

Some other observations were:

• It takes several “test runs” for the instructors and two to three weeks for students to get familiar with the technology.

• Students are generally positive about the technology.

• The ability to review recorded lectures was regarded as the most positive aspect.

• The pre-assessment quiz can reduce delivery time.

• This form of course is singularly appropriate for graduate level courses.

• Overall, the author felt that this active form of distance learning with live instructors using web conferencing is a considerable improvement over the traditional asynchronous form of distance learning involving passive delivery.

Collaboration Between Different Universities

The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T) and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) linked up to present an MS degree in Technology Management through distance learning using asynchronous online learning in 2004.81 The MS degree created by the SDSM&T is aimed at practicing engineers and technologists and covers management, finance, operations and quantitative methods. It has been a popular course with growth rate of 12% per year (as of 2004) and almost 50 students enrolling in this year.

From a Mongolian student’s perspective, there is a significant advantage in achieving a Western university qualification as well as a significantly reduced cost in a cooperative venture with a local university in presenting this course through distance learning. There were a number of challenges mainly relating to difference in costs, marketing, delivery method and training of MUST staff. The course was managed by SDSM&T with course lecture notes, assignments, solutions and supplementary materials provided online. Lectures were provided on DVDs mailed to students in the USA but this was not workable in Mongolia so an internet delivery mechanism was employed with the Mongolian translations maintained at MUST. Students were given credit for 12 credit hours of MUST courses (out of a total of 32 credits). Students were required to attend one class session at MUST every three weeks. One of the greatest challenges cited has been the conversion of the existing curriculum to the delivery format suitable for Mongolia.

Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program (GTREP)

The Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program is a collaboration program between Georgia Tech and three other partner institutions in providing Georgia Tech engineering degrees to the local students who would not normally have been able to access these courses.82

At Georgia Tech (in common with many other institutions) it was found that faculty were relatively unenthused with getting involved with internet-based distance learning. The software program, Infusion, was used to capture the PowerPoint slides with synchronized video, audio, images and annotations. Hot clickable links were provided to supplementary materials. This was used for asynchronous presentations. The Polycom videoconferencing system was used for provision of synchronous online learning.

Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering (MSME) through Georgia Tech

Since its commencement in 1996, nearly 720 graduate students have undertaken the MSME with 158 graduating.83 There has been no distinction between the on-campus and distance learning approach, which has been presented in an asynchronous style. The authors reflected on some of the issues in presenting the structural vibrations senior level mechanical engineering elective course.

The course delivery software used was Tegrity, with course notes captured using a stylus and a Tablet PC. The audio and video of the lecture was packaged with the course notes. The first challenge faced was the space limitations of the Tablet PC (compared to the traditional classroom whiteboard). The material is all retrievable but not simultaneously viewable. Having color available through the use of the Tablet PC and software, added considerable value to the recordings.

There was some difficulty in easily moving around the classroom as the instructor was tethered to the Tablet PC. Being able to integrate computer applications such as MATLAB and PowerPoint into the course lectures added considerable value. There were concerns about releasing the lecture recordings to the on-campus class due to the anxiety about a significant drop off in lecture attendance, but this didn’t eventuate when they were provided to all on-campus students as well.

In using asynchronous mode, there were concerns about the lack of interactivity and class discussions. It was, however, anticipated that in using synchronous web conferencing that this issue could be eliminated, or at least reduced. Finally, being able to record lectures freed up the lecturer for those difficult-to-manage trips away from campus in the middle of a series of lectures.

Other miscellaneous issues were the superb archive of course materials being built up around the lectures, the need to remember to switch off the microphone when not being used, the clutter of connecting cables everywhere and the criticality of only releasing solutions to the students when the expiry date for that assignment had elapsed.

An Integrated Web Conferencing, Simulation and Remote Lab Tool

It was noted that there was no single package (not even those such as Adobe Connect, Centra Systems and Blackboard) providing support for videoconferencing, remote labs, simulations and downloadable course lectures.84 At Sonoma State University (USA), a software package called the Integrated Virtual Learning Platform (IVLP) was created. This provided a unified set of features, allowing for web conferencing, real time chatting and remote labs. For example, this allowed the instructor to support live demonstrations of labs while lecturing to the students.

They based their design around Windows XP and LabVIEW 2009, where the central server is set up as the LabVIEW web server. The remote client can gain access to the instruments through the LabVIEW web server via the virtual instruments (VIs). In setting up the server, LabVIEW had to be configured to allow for remote connections and the application VI had to be "published" using LabVIEW's web publishing feature. This required the server to have a static IP address. The firewalls also had to be configured to allow access to all users. At the client end, when the application is accessed for the first time through the browser, two ActiveX plug-ins are installed together with LabVIEW's run-time package.

The various modules of the IVLP included lecturing using PowerPoint, Excel and pdf formats, simulations, remote lab experimentation, quizzes to check the level of understanding of the students, videoconferencing, requesting new experiments and finally reports on student performance and progress.

Future work planned included adding in a time-out feature to users logged in but not using the IVLP, providing support for multiple simultaneous remote labs, security access to designated users to access student records, providing an interactive quiz facility and monitoring of the web traffic passing through the IVLP web server.

At this stage, there has been no widespread usage of the IVLP but it was hoped to increase user numbers beyond the immediate group.

Fire Safety Engineering Technology

Due to their varying times of shift work, fire service professionals find it challenging to undertake further study.85 The issue of studying further was made more challenging in that in the USA (in 2004), there were fewer than eight accredited four-year institutions offering a degree in Fire Safety Engineering Technology, with only a few offering it via the web.

Many fire service professionals are now required to obtain a four-year degree for career advancement. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte offers a distance learning program using a WebCT course management system (or LMS) and a Centra web conferencing package conducted with a mix of one third asynchronous and two thirds synchronous. The typical fire station today has internet access, so this is a workable solution. The degree is offered in two components: a two-year associate degree which optionally feeds into the remaining two years giving a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Safety Engineering Technology. The authors point out that the underlying basis for these classes aimed at mature age professionals is andragogical (adult-based education) where the dominant factor is the learner’s own experience. Three driving elements in the learning process for adults are:

• The reasons for knowing the learning material.

• The need for self-direction in learning.

• The context of the adult learner’s experience.

Unusually in the first author’s experience, one of the most used resources at UNC Charlotte has been the asynchronous threaded discussion board where a particular subject is discussed at length before a live synchronous meeting in Centra. An added bonus to conducting the courses virtually has been the disregard for rank and status in the students interacting with each other, thus making discussions more fluid.

Florida A & M University

It is suggested that synchronous distance learning can be closely modeled after the traditional face-to-face classes.86 For the presentation of highly technical content, the traditional synchronous virtual classroom is still the preferred mechanism for delivery.

The Division of Engineering Technology at Florida A&M University offered a four-year program in engineering technology with specialties in electronics, civil, construction and manufacturing. In 2003, the upper division components of these were presented to eleven community colleges around Florida through a VTEL TC2000 videoconferencing system that allowed for TV picture quality supplemented with asynchronous delivery of video tapes of lectures to the remote sites. Labs were undertaken either on local computers, using available local equipment, loaning equipment from the main campus or students making the perhaps, lengthy journey to the main campus (especially for the civil and construction engineering courses). Students were satisfied with the approach especially the ability to review tapes of lectures.

Blended Learning But All Online

An exceptionally productive and effective approach was outlined for the Engineering Economy course in the Department of Engineering Technology at the University of Dayton.87 One of the challenges with asynchronous courses especially is that of students postponing the study and assignment work until the last minute; hence considerable self-discipline is required in order to complete the work. A blended model with synchronous and asynchronous online learning was used in the delivery of this course. A philosophy underpinning the delivery was the need for tight enforceable deadlines that were spread through the course, as many (decidedly not all) students are not good time managers.

The students were required to study the recorded lectures, read the assigned text material and do the homework (all downloaded from the WebCT LMS) before attending the online synchronous presentations through WebEx. In order to build up a strong habit, homework was always due on the same day and time (midnight on Wednesday). Online “office hours” where the instructor is available for questions from students was set up for Wednesday evening.

Quizzes (for learning) and exams (for assessment) were administered online through WebCT. The students could undertake up to two quizzes each week; the highest scored quiz counted towards the overall grade. Two exams were administered, both online, at the mid-term and end of the course with a tight time deadline. These were open book with a randomized multiple version of questions.

Threaded discussions were provided on a discussion board with students being required to respond to one or two questions posted by the instructor every week. This built up the skill of the student in using high quality written communications.

The online synchronous sessions were conducted once per week for an hour using WebEx. These were effectively tutorial sessions where the students could discuss difficult problems or consider questions posed by the instructor.

Student evaluations at the end of the course were compared with a traditional face-to-face course, but although the online course candidates had a slightly higher average grade, the differences were not significant. Finally, the Tablet PCs that were donated to the department were very useful allowing easy written annotation on PowerPoint slides, and all students are now required to purchase these versatile devices.

Project-Based Distance Learning

An effective approach to project-based distance learning particularly in the engineering, science and technology fields was undertaken at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.88 The Senior Design Project is a required design course for all engineering technology majors during the last semester of their senior year. This is a hands-on project requiring the students to design, build and test a product. A careful budget was required (including their labor). Careful time management skills are required to fit this work into their normal class (and work) schedule. Students work in terms of teams of two or three. WebCT, instant messaging, web-based cameras and microphones were required. In addition, Camtasia and Tegrity were used for screen recording.

The student project had to conform to the general guidelines outlined in the master document posted on WebCT. A written project proposal then had to be submitted by each group within three to four weeks of commencement. A detailed set of specifications was required, which the final result of the project was compared to. A final presentation was required including a project demonstration. A few benefits of this distance learning project compared to the previous on-campus approach were time saving using WebCT, improved interaction between faculty and students due to the use of multiple tools (both synchronous and asynchronous used throughout the day and week), ease of document delivery (using WebCT), lower utilization of the time-stressed classrooms and significant cost savings.

Associate Degree Articulating into Bachelor Degree in Engineering Technology

The University of Dayton set up an agreement in 2002 with Edison Community College to provide their associate degree graduates with courses provided through distance learning to allow them to complete a bachelor's degree in Engineering Technology.89 There was a 45-minute commute between the two institutions. making distance learning an attractive option.

The University of Dayton was equipped with a Polycom videoconferencing system with two cameras, a SMART board panel, associated microphones, speakers and monitors. The SMART board allows the instructor to write on a variety of images including PowerPoints. The first two distance learning courses were Project Management and Manufacturing Design and were simultaneously taught to a local class as well as a distant Edison College classroom.

Course resources, lectures and class discussions had to cater for two groups of students: those at Edison College who were part-time mature age students mainly working and those at Dayton who were full-time with very little experience. This required the instructor to put in considerably more work than for two equivalent traditional residential classes. On occasion, both groups of students (distant and on-campus) felt they were being ignored with lack of eye contact. For example, the instructor often concentrated on the TV monitor at the rear of the classroom showing the distant Edison students. Audio between the different groups often had to be modulated as it was too loud. There were technical difficulties with the videoconferencing system and there was the usual dilemma of whether to continue teaching or to suspend instruction while the problem was being rectified. It was difficult to identify who was speaking at the distant site and students had to identify themselves first. Some guest speakers declined invitations to speak when they became aware that they might be appearing on camera.

An important issue was efficient management of submission of assignments, as initially requiring all students (approximately 50 in the first group) to email to the instructor quickly became chaotic and a proper LMS would be appropriate to handle this load. It was easy for all students to obtain course books without having to travel to remote bookshops by simply ordering online.

Planned improvements for future classes included: a more expansive whiteboard that could be transmitted to distant students (e.g. containing the workings of a lengthy problem), a chat room and more efficient document sharing. Overall, the current system provided both distance and on-campus students with a similar learning experience and the plan was to expand it to eight courses per semester.

Moving from Traditional Videoconferencing to Online Desktop

The Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program is a distance education program for graduate engineering education in Virginia, USA.90 They have been through the various technologies in presenting the courses through distance learning: microwave, satellite, ATM networks and more recently, interactive videoconferencing (IVC). However, IVC requires delivery to specific classrooms (in Virginia) at often inconvenient times for students (often during the student’s work day, when the lecture is being delivered on-campus). The need to move to a student’s (often mobile) computing device means that IVC is simply unacceptable nowadays.

It was decided that the courses could easily be modularized for asynchronous delivery without the requirement to produce “Hollywood quality” learning materials. These modules could be placed online and used in conjunction with live web conferencing and interactive discussion boards. This approach is considerably more convenient for students in providing an engaging active learning environment.

Geographical Information Systems

The University of Hartford College of Engineering, Technology and Architecture created a blended Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course in 2003.91 After considerable research it was decided to use PowerPoint slides with audio from lectures pre-recorded, rather than a live internet broadcast. Adding video to the PowerPoint slides was discarded as an option due to the enormously large file sizes that resulted. The presentation was done in conversational style using a script. This entire process took a significant amount of time; almost 200 hours for five lectures. Halfway through each lecture (an hour in total) a short quiz of 45 seconds was added to liven up interest. Questions were answered during the short follow-up Netmeeting tutorial session. Homework questions were answered from the textbook and submitted via a Word attachment to an email. All the students attended the lecture and follow-up session in a classroom on campus. Blackboard was used as the LMS.

For the remainder of the time, the students were free to work at their own pace provided they complied with stringent submission deadlines. One of the major components of the course (30%) was the project undertaken in the students' own time.

The labs were successfully undertaken on the students' own computers using the GIS software (ArcView), provided free for 180 days, with the textbook used. This meant the students had an equivalent experience to that of the university lab

A review at the end of the course indicated some problems with the term project, such as computer technical issues, inability to draw cartographic models, calculation errors and poor report writing techniques. Besides this, overall the course progressed well with similar grades to the classroom-based course for labs and homework (but not for the project). The students were satisfied with the blended approach. More work however needed to be done in preparation for the students' project, more training for the instructors in these new distance learning techniques and more support to students for computer software and hardware problems.

Astronomy Course Improvements

There may be some raised eyebrows at discussing astronomy in a book of this nature, but this has great applicability to conversion of engineering or technology courses from traditional to online formats. Enrolments for the Swinburne University of Technology’s Master of Science in Astronomy (and associated graduate certificates and graduate diplomas) have over 250 students (in 2008) from throughout the world.92 Until recently all course materials were delivered via CD with a typical unit comprising 1500 PowerPoint slides broken into 35-40 activities. Students view the slides in the PowerPoint viewer program and also the web pages (saved on the CD as well). Interaction with instructors and their fellow students is via asynchronous newsgroups and email. PowerPoint’s ability to present text and vector graphics, images and animations as well as play movies and audio files with direct links to websites was unrivalled and easy to set up and widely accessible. Assessment is based on a range of computer managed tests, essays, projects and contributions at online discussion groups. An interim measure of using downloadable pdf and Flash animation formats was discarded.

The approach outlined above was transformed to using Drupal, an open source, web-based content management platform that is a PHP application that can store content in a database. As a supplement to this, the PHP-based open source Coppermine Photo gallery was used to record and store the thousands of images. The SAO (Swinburne Astronomy Online) Virtual Cadet, a web utility developed for the purpose, converted the PowerPoint slides (20,000 of them) into Drupal book pages, and the SAO Viewer, used by students and instructor, which comprised a PHP back end interfaced to the Drupal database and an AJAX front end. The SAO viewer is embedded in the university’s LMS (Blackboard) and thus the course materials could be be easily accessed.

Feedback from students has generally been positive with appreciation for the standard “look and feel”. The ability to access (and collect) material offline via pdf files is also valued.

Online Master of Engineering in Professional Practice

The Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP) is a two year engineering management program presented by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.93 The program is cohort-based running over two years with about 30 students per year and a graduation rate of over 95%. It is online and students can thus participate from anywhere in the world with only one on-campus week session per year in August. The course is strongly focused towards applications-oriented learning with engineering subjects such as Technical Project Management, Economic Analysis and Management, Communicating Technical Information, Problem solving with Computers, Research, International Engineering Strategies, Statistics, Engineering and Business Data Communications and Quality.

The course commences with a one credit course, Network Skills for Remote Learners, which provides the necessary training in studying online, covering such topics as tools used, best practice in collaborating and learning online, personal learning goals and creating an effective schedule to undertake the 20 hours per week required.

The 16-week semester-based Technical Project Management is a good example of how a course is conducted, with an example of a week's activities, detailed as follows. As a start to the week's activities, the students listen to a 30-minute introduction to the current lesson (available on DVD or online). There are then readings from the study guide and textbook. The student has to participate in the online asynchronous discussions led by a student volunteer on a selected topic. A live web conference is conducted on either a Wednesday morning or Thursday evening using Microsoft LiveMeeting and through teleconference. During the web conference a review is done of the previous week's online discussion, a student-led presentation is held and the session is completed with an instructor-led review of the current week's lesson. Finally, there are homework and assignments (together with a collaborative team project) that have to be completed. Moodle is used as the LMS to underpin the course.

The regular feedback (formal and otherwise) at the end of each semester was generally very good with positive comments about working with fellow professionals, the weekly discussions and the team project.

A summary of the key lessons for the success of this program were:

• The course must emphasize the applied practical nature of the course and be state-of-the-art.

• The highly experienced student know-how must be tapped during the course.

• Traditional project management tools as well as alternative approaches should be covered.

• Team work must be managed effectively to be a key part of the course.

• A high standard of professional conduct should be demanded from the students.

• Online learning should be leveraged effectively so that it is not merely a poor shadow of a face-to-face classroom session.

Commencing an Engineering Undergraduate Program

A synchronous distance learning model (as opposed to asynchronous self-paced learning) was selected at the University of Western Florida, due to what was considered a more demanding engineering program and has operated since 2003.94 The lecturers delivered lectures to students at both the Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach campuses with high quality audio and video. The faculty at the campuses were responsible for the lab sessions. Lab equipment for the earlier years of the course was not considered particularly expensive as it was low-cost and computer-based; however, for the final years with the emphasis on high frequency / short transient conditions, the equipment could be costly.

The challenges for both faculty and students were:

• Despite the large screen monitors being used in both local and remote classrooms, establishing a close link between local faculty and remote students was difficult due to the lack of facial expressions and other non-verbal feedback.

• Remote student exams were transferred using the mail service that meant delays. Using the process of scanning a paper copy or creating the work directly on a Tablet PC were apparently more time consuming than a paper copy.

• Finally, it was considerably more time consuming to help remote students during office hours.

Overall, distance learning courses consumed considerably more time than the equivalent classroom sessions.

Conversion of Labs and Courses to Distance Education

Distance education at East Carolina University has been a source of rapid growth compared to that of the traditional campus (21% compared to 2% in 2006).95 Although distance learning was a critical part of the offering, only three out of 24 labs were offered online. Five foundation-lab intensive STEM courses common to all programs were targeted for incorporation of distance-education labs. These courses were electronics/electricity, materials and processes, computer numerical control, thermal and fluid sciences and electromechanical systems. A mixture of tapes, virtual instrumentation, virtual reality and CD-ROMs were proposed. For example, the course Thermal and Fluid Sciences had the following proposed structure for its distance-education labs: viscosity measurements (tapes); principles of heat transfer (virtual simulation), fluid flow (virtual reality) and principles of HVAC (Web).

An Online Microbiology Lab

An effective demonstration of putting a microbiology course online (a first-year college course part of a nursing program associate degree) was done at Ocean County College.96 Over 14 courses in the sciences were offered online. A microbiology lab kit from Hands-On Labs was used as the centerpiece for the labs with an inexpensive microscope (with optional oil immersion lens), supporting equipment and specimens. This allowed for such varied experiments as observation of bacteria and blood, culturing microbes and antibiotic testing.

One of the keys to the success of this course has been in creating a sense of community with personal pictures and a vignette of all participants’ lives. The instructor made a point of chasing after students with a follow-up phone call if they missed the first assignment or were dissatisfied with anything about the course. The course was made topical with current and local news being weaved into the course content. One of the challenges with any course is to deal with “lurkers”–those who don’t directly participate–and 20% is assigned for participation and attendance with active interaction to get the lurkers to join the discussions. A reinforcing note is included in the course requirements that purchase of a lab kit is mandatory. Photos of students performing the labs and their experiment helps to demonstrate that the work is indeed being undertaken.

A high quality supporting website with a detailed course syllabus which is fresh and constantly being updated is critical to the course’s success. Despite this course being presented in an asynchronous way, retention rates of 95% or higher were achieved.

Interactive Biomedical Engineering Course

A series of biomedical engineering course modules was created with animations and simulations based around Medical Imaging with five commonly used topics (X-ray, CT, MRI, Nuclear Medicine Imaging, Ultrasound and Image Processing).97 An open source MySQL database managed the updating of the materials and tracked the learning through various assessments. The structure for each module included a background review to the subject, cartoon / movie animation, text-figure description, program simulation and demonstration. An assessment tracking system provides ongoing assessment of each student. Although the comparison showed no significant differences, it would appear that there is a trend toward improved learning using this package as compared to the traditional classroom approach.

Engineering Statistics Course Placed Partially Online for Large Classes

The University Technology Petronas in Malaysia has up to 600 students (and three instructors) in the Probability and Statistics for Engineers course conducted at a normal university campus.98 There were thus challenges with the distribution and organization of course information, communication between students and faculty, feedback opportunities and group work.

The Moodle LMS was thus installed in January 2007 to help with this course with the following elements: tutorial registration of students, communications of announcements, easy online access to course materials (lectures notes and course outlines), online assessments (with grading) and student surveys.

Overall, students were happy with the improved system. However, the online quizzes were not successful with slow connections and difficulty in reading mathematics symbols on some computers. For the instructors, it was very time consuming and cumbersome in setting up the online quizzes. The online discussion boards were also not used by the students mainly because of access to mobile phones and close physical proximity on campus.

The WileyPlus online assessment system was introduced in January 2009 to improve the quiz assessment part of Moodle.99 The pre-loaded questions include multi-step problems, multiple choice questions, true/false, matching, numerical, short answers, descriptive, calculated and essay. There are also online guided problems with step-by-step interactive problem solving guidance. The instructor could set options for randomization of questions, number of attempts possible, time to complete the work and type of additional help provided. Most of the assignments were opened for five to seven days with immediate feedback given when a student completes an assignment. More than 70% of the students found the online assignments useful. Problems listed were slow connection, some mathematical symbols not being recognized by the PC and, finally, the numeric value of answers needs to be in precisely the right format otherwise it is rejected.

Second Largest University in the USA

The University of Central Florida (UCF) is the second largest university in the USA and has the following methods of course delivery:100

• Web classes–web-based learning.

• Video Streaming .

• Mixed mode / reduced seat time–classroom-based content available via streaming video.

• Face-to-face / video streaming–face-to-face class meetings are recorded for video streaming.

• Face-to-face.

The only other format, Interactive web conferencing type classes, was cancelled in June 2009 due to lack of student interest.

Since 2006, the College of Engineering and Computer Science has used Tegrity, which captures all classes for later review by students using easily searchable facilities from their computer. Video quality can be up to 1920 X 1080. Handwritten material on digital whiteboards (which is also recorded) has gradually been replaced with slides (in 45% of the materials). Engineering instructors traditionally used handwritten lectures on whiteboards to show derivations.

A summary of the engineering student breakdown at UCF was estimated to be as follows:

• Approximately half are working full-time.

• About 80% take fully online courses for convenience (of not having to front up at campus).

• Most (85%) are satisfied with online courses.

• Instructors feel that web-based teaching consumes far more time than traditional classroom-based work.

Joint Japanese and American Course

A synchronous combined lab (spectrometry and machine vision) and lectures were conducted between University of Georgia Biological and Agricultural engineering department (in the USA) and Kagoshima University Department of Environmental Science & Technology (in Japan).101 Some of the challenges in making this project a success were the differences between the academic calendars, bandwidth limitations over a 1MB/s cable modem, written English which was easier to understand than if it were spoken for the Japanese and variations in preliminary knowledge (e.g. calculus). This resulted in the different university students proceeding through the course at different rates.

Worldwide Delivery of Engineering Bachelor and Master Degrees

Since the 1950s, the University of Florida has been through the full gamut of distance learning technologies ranging from production quality tapes (only to industry sites in the mid 70s), VHS tapes (mid 80s), DVDs (to the mid 90s) to online video delivery (from the late 90s).102 There were seven engineering departments offering graduate certificates or degrees with over 700 students registering (in 2010/11). Most students have already completed a bachelor degree (82%) before enrolling in one of these courses.

An asynchronous course format is used. Operators video the instructors presenting the course live to campus students and place this up on the Sakai LMS within an hour of the class being completed. Remote students maintain the same schedule for assignments and exams as for on-campus students. The operators are flexible in their high quality video production ranging from an instructor using a chalk board to electronic whiteboard. In addition, a discussion tool, grade book (for uploading, grading and return of graded assignments) and online web conferencing tool (for online office hours) are used.

Flexibility is offered in courses being undertaken ranging from individual courses, graduate certificates (three to five of graduate level courses) to a master’s degree comprising 10 courses with in-depth study. Distance students can nominate an appropriate exam proctor, who is then screened under guidelines to prevent any possibility of academic dishonesty.

Finally, no mention is made on any transcripts about the difference between distance learning and on-campus residential students.

Probability and Statistics for Engineers and Scientists

The University of Virginia converted a Probability and Statistics course for Engineers and Scientists from a traditional 32 (75-minute) face-to-face lecture format to a series of 30-minute modules grouped into units (such as data analysis and display and correlation).103 In addition, each module had assignments, tests and quizzes at defined periods with the underlying philosophy of self-directed but paced learning. Tablet PCs were used as well as software packages such as Powerpoint and Camtasia with support from One-Note, Minitab, Elluminate and CourseCast.

The online course was well received with only 21 now attending the classroom sessions and the remainder of the 68 students undertaking it online. Apart from remediable complaints about irritating audio interference from taps of the stylus on the screen and shuffling of paper, most students indicated a preference for the online format.

There were the usual challenges with students having to motivate themselves to keep up with a suggestion made by two that enforced appearances in the classroom twice a week were a way to achieve this. Suggestions for improvements were easier access to recordings (e.g. review offline) and inevitably, for online learning, requests for deadlines to review lectures and assignment of homework. Students were also keen to find out how their peers were faring in terms of workload and feedback.

The First ABET-accredited Distance Learning Degree

Commencing in 1989, the School of Engineering and Mines at the University of North Dakota started delivering Bachelor of Science engineering degrees, initially to specific companies such as 3M and then on an open subscription basis.104 The average age of students is almost 35 years old with 97% in full-time employment (and 131 students in the Fall of 2003). It is useful to note that the majority of students receive full reimbursement from their firms once they achieve a C grade or better. This was the only ABET accredited undergraduate engineering program (2003).

The initial approach of mailing out documents and videos of lectures to students has long since been superseded by a centralized system of recording, processing and publishing to the web. Each classroom has equipment to capture the instructor’s presentation. Instructors wrote on a Wacom Cintiq tablet as they taught. This combined electronic pen and LCD display (and employed software such as PowerPoint). The Mimio device captured hand-generated notes on a standard whiteboard. An Elmo document camera is also used. A video camera with zoom, pan and tilt capabilities is located in each classroom to capture the instructor. The uploaded files were then streamed over the web in a RealOne player format (with a ScreenWatch plug-in), thus allowing same day access for students. Overall feedback from students was positive.

Building up Your own Engineering Degree Program with Minimal Risk Surely the disappointing statistics of the estimated 83% of US colleges that do not offer four-year engineering degrees are replicated to some extent around the world.105 As discussed earlier, distance education can be the equal of traditional education–but there are significant barriers to implementing a new undergraduate distance engineering program and these include the cost of implementation and operation, overcoming faculty resistance to accepting engineering distance learning, and accreditation.

In 2011, the University of North Dakota (UND) was the only US institution offering ABET-accredited four-year engineering programs (chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical) through distance learning. Benedictine College (BC) set up a successful model with UND to add engineering programs through distance learning to their offering combining a small liberal arts college with that of a large engineering university. This has the additional advantage of producing engineering graduates with excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

The University of North Dakota format provides online lectures available two hours after the conclusion of the class lecture (on the Blackboard LMS), occasional videoconferencing, email and phone support, as well as concentrated summer lab experiences on-campus. The presentation slides from a lecture are created using tablet monitors and for clarity, occupy most of the screen with good quality audio provided.

There were three phases proposed for setting up a low-risk engineering program on a traditional liberal arts college. Phase One, the initial one, required UND to provide all the engineering courses (including labs) together with a BC mathematics or science degree. The second phase was to build on the growing engineering student numbers from phase 1 with the addition of lecturers and the provision of a general engineering degree (with a pending application for ABET accreditation). The major expense in this phase was the establishment of general on-site engineering labs. The third phase was for the institution to provide its own ABET-accredited degrees, but to still use UND for any niche area courses. A key part of the model is to ensure a high level of interaction with the younger (perhaps less disciplined) students at BC through study groups, and regular reviews (at least every semester) of progress with a UND faculty advisor over the telephone.

At UND, an engineering degree requires two residential summer lab sessions of two weeks each to satisfy the accreditation requirements. The strategy for Benedictine College is to achieve degrees from both institutions over five years.

Swedish Master’s of Engineering Degree

At Umeå University, a master’s degree in engineering was offered in dual mode (both distance and face-to-face) from 2004 onwards to increase the small enrolments in the face-to-face courses.106 The first three semesters comprised coursework and the last semester was based around a thesis on a research project. Lectures to the classroom-bound students were also recorded and streamed out synchronously (via the internet). Projects and assignments were submitted via the Learning Management System. Examinations were taken at the student’s residence and sent to Sweden by mail for grading. Over the period 2004 to 2008, the numbers for on-campus sessions went from 42 to 34 but jumped for distance learning from 5 to 191. However, the course completion rate for the distance students was under 50%.

An analysis of the comments from students and staff suggested that there were problems that needed attention.

Most interaction was directed at the needs of distance learning students while these students were unhappy with insufficient discussions during lectures and afterwards. In addition, responses by lecturers to distance students’ emails were slow and inadequate. However, lecturers felt that distance students were provided with considerably more support in preparation for assignments and examinations; as compared to their on-campus peers.

On-campus students had considerable face-to-face assistance and were irritated by the mechanical reading of the PowerPoint slides rather than a higher level interactive approach. Materials were presented at a low level akin to “spoon feeding” as opposed to at a graduate level. Other challenges with the lectures were that they were too quick with a fast rate of changing slides. Distance students did not want use of the whiteboard as they could not view it remotely.

Examinations of five hours (a Swedish tradition) were considered too long by distance students. However, they also had a poor record of keeping to deadlines in submitting assignments on time. On-campus students were unenthused with the basic online quizzes (marked by computer) believing that a more creative engineering approach should be followed.

The overall program was considered strong on theoretical concepts but poor in focusing on practical engineering issues. Practical hands-on labs were missing and even in an online mode would have helped with the course.

Many students lacked study and communication skills exacerbated by undertaking a very complex program (five courses running in parallel). Limited feedback was provided to students on their progress (and success or otherwise). Lecturers had very little knowledge of the circumstances and the needs of the distance students.

Distance students had difficulties handling the volume of course material (and as it was eBook it was difficult to read it on the computer screen).

Overall, it would appear that it was very difficult to combine face-to-face and distance learning environments.

Engineering Economics Course at the University of Missouri

An engineering economics course was converted at the University of Missouri from an online format based around the Blackboard LMS. There were a number of key attributes for the online version as against the classroom session.

The (six) unit-based approach was transformed into a weekly topic-based approach with 15 main concepts. When students achieved 100% success in a reading quiz, the assignment was released and on achievement of 100% here, the weekly test was released (timed and available during a certain period with randomized questions from three difficulty levels). Finally, each weekly module was released on the submission of the weekly test (or at midnight Sunday). Demonstration of mastery was via a reading quiz and an assignment. Most of the original text-based materials were converted to recordings of presentations, web-based resources and graphical content.

All students were carefully monitored with timely responses by the instructor (at least once per day). A weekly question and answer session provided asynchronous assistance for students.

A final comment was for inexperienced instructors to seek a professional instructional designer to ensure a better learning experience.

Civil Engineering Program

The American Society of Civil Engineers successful ExCEEd model for presenting courses had the following core requirements:107

• Structured organization for the course based on learning objectives, appropriate to the subject matter and which is varied to appeal to different learning styles.

• The presentation should be engaging with clearly written and verbal communication encompassing a high degree of contact with students and using physical models and demonstrations.

• The instructor should show considerable enthusiasm, build up a positive rapport with students and perform frequent assessment of student learning using classroom assessment techniques supplemented by out-of-class homework and projects. Technology should be used appropriately as a support (i.e. avoid PowerPoint as a panacea for everything).

• Throughout, the instructor should be a positive role model.

This was adapted from its successful face-to-face approach to a distance learning model using video taped classes with somewhat disappointing results. Some lessons learned included the following:

• Notes need to be written on a whiteboard or tablet to keep the students focused.

• Use of voice-over only is not as effective as video of the instructor.

• Work hard on conveying passion and enthusiasm consistently in the recordings (by standing and using active gestures).

• Writing on a tablet is much more interactive than simply using PowerPoints.

Virtual Team-based Design Projects

The University of Wisconsin Colleges (comprising 13 two-year campuses) collaborated with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (UWP), when UWP offered the last two years of the engineering degree online to each campus.108 This meant that students didn’t need to move to Platteville for the last two years of the degree program. It should be noted that the first two years are offered in a face-to-face mode at five campuses and via synchronous Microsoft Live Meeting and a telephone system to the other campuses during normal business hours. However, this needed to be changed to a proper asynchronous online delivery methodology to capture those mature age students who couldn’t attend during normal office hours. Hence most courses have been migrated to an online approach for the entire engineering degree.

An example of the approach followed was illustrated with the engineering fundamentals course with learning outcomes of providing skills in working in a team, solving engineering problems, how an engineer applies technology to their work and working with spreadsheets was developed for online delivery. It was presented both online (28 students) and to a face-to-face group (24 students).

Two team projects (mouse trap car and a wind farm) were worked on by both groups in teams of about three to four students. The online group provided the project presentations through Blackboard Collaborate. Two engineers were interviewed using a professional camera crew and then the videos were viewed by both online and classroom students (with 10% and 70% viewed by classroom and online students respectively). In future, this activity will be changed from being optional and will be incorporated into the assignments to increase the take-up by students.

The classroom instructor felt that it was difficult to complete the course in the time available, whereas the online instructor in providing the notes and videos allowed the students to work at their own pace in completing the course work. The online instructor expended double the time (20 hours) on the course as compared to the traditional classroom instructor. The use of the web conferencing tool, Blackboard Collaborate, was considered to be critical for the virtual office hours and meetings. Intriguingly enough, the online virtual teams appeared to function considerably better in quality and detail of project analysis and presentations.

The results showed that online students did considerably better than the classroom students and indicated that their experiences were similar. This doesn’t necessarily reflect on the use of online technologies as the instructors indicated the online students were perhaps considerably more focused.

Master’s Degree in Remote Engineering

Universities from Austria, Germany, Ireland, Romania and Slovenia developed a master’s degree of Remote Engineering.109 Remote (or online) engineering is a growing field and can be thought of the field of engineering as applied to remote control and telemetry systems using information technology and data communications/telecommunications systems to transfer the necessary data over a network (generally including the internet) to achieve programming, design, installation, maintenance, measurement and control outcomes.

One of the master’s degree courses (Rapid Prototyping of Digital Systems) taught students how to handle modern CAD tools, logic simulation and logic synthesis using hardware description languages (such as VHDL), design hierarchy and FPGA technology. The lectures were available from the Moodle LMS with support provided through Skype and email. The lab work was conducted using a CPLD (Complex Programmable Logic Device) prototyping board using design tools such as MAX+PLUS II or QuartusII from Altera. The remote lab containing the board resided at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria and the MIT iLab Shared Architecture was used to operate the online lab.

LabVIEW was used to deliver the lab to the remote students to undertake the necessary programming and configuration work. The MAX PLUS II software was delivered to the students via a Citrix Presentation Server.

A typical routine required the students to access the particular CPLD online Lab, undertake the digital design using the MAX+PLUS II software, upload the configuration to the CPLD board, access the user interface and run the experiment (using the Webcam to confirm the operation of the device).

The feedback (from 25 students) indicated that almost 80% felt that the remote lab could replace the local experiment and about 90% indicated that despite their remoteness from the board, they felt in control. The greatest problem encountered was that users on occasion couldn’t connect to the Citrix server for the remote labs (as the previous user had not disconnected).

Blended Delivery of Engineering Economy Course

At the Missouri University of Science and Technology, an undergraduate hybrid engineering economy course was created blending online and face-to-face delivery methods commencing in 2011.110 The course resources (using the Blackboard LMS) comprised:

• Modules created in PowerPoint (and Camtasia to record live annotations on the slides) and video (including example problem videos).

• A WileyPLUS Principles of Engineering Economic Analysis digital text.

• PowerPoint presentations with live annotations in class.

• In-class problem solving with optional polling (using Poll Everywhere).

• Tutoring assistance with skilled undergraduates in a computer lab.

• Live chat and a discussion board.

• Four in-class exams (determining 80% of grade) and weekly practice assignments (from WileyPLUS with unique problem variables to minimize cheating).

A similar range of results from the examinations was achieved for both blended and only-classroom students with a high degree of enthusiasm for students for the hybrid approach.

Strong Growth in Online Engineering Management Courses

According to research conducted at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Systems Engineering and Engineering Management Program), there has been a strong increase in enrollment for engineering management master’s degrees from 2,229 (2003) to 4,625 (2006) in the USA.111 It was also found that the average enrollment in universities using distance education is over 50% higher than for the traditional approach. Strong growth was also observed for distance learning part time students.

Blackboard Vista was the most widely used LMS, followed by WebCT. All programs used presentation slides with most using recorded presentations with both voice and video (half of these recorded during actual class sessions and the other half recorded lectures specifically for online students).

The Pitfalls of Distance Learning in Countries with Weak Infrastructure

The focus of the past discussions has been on making online learning effective for engineering and technology education; however, it should be borne in mind that the need for outstanding administrative support structures will make or break any program.112

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Figure 16.1: Good Infrastructure is Important

An example of this is a well conceived $5m (AID) project to provide Australian business degrees through distance learning to 200 students in Africa through the African Virtual University (AVU). This, however, foundered due to a number of problems despite its obvious immediate benefits, and demonstrated need, for students located remotely. The learning resources were provided through WebCT, CDROMs, hard copies, video taping, computer labs and digital libraries at both AVU and Curtin. The major problems were lack of administrative and financial capacity at the AVU, Curtin’s limited understanding of the local requirements and poor communications between joint venture partners and students. It is thus vital that these issues (esp. location and communications) are identified in the early stages of the project as the ability to establish strategic working relationships with overseas institutions is key to the long term competitiveness of Australian higher education.

Key Points and Applications
Chapter 16

The following are the key points and applications from this chapter entitled: Applications.

1.  There is a vast range of applications possible with online learning. Typical examples from a range of engineering fields such as electrical, electronics, industrial automation, mechanical, manufacturing, chemical, process, IT, computer, nuclear, civil and mining.

2.  In 2007, Excelsior College were already offering 72 online courses to 4500 students using asynchronous web delivery with the WebCT LMS. The four key elements of quality and effectiveness were considered to be access, student learning, student satisfaction and instructor satisfaction.

3.  A master degree in Remote Engineering at Ilmenau University of Technology had one specific online course entitled Rapid Prototyping of Digital Systems. This used the Moodle LMS to deliver the course with remote labs based around LabVIEW and the iLab Shared architecture. About 80% of respondents believed that the remote labs could replace localized ones.

4.  Drexel University created a Master of Science in Engineering Technology that focused on applied aspects of technology such as programmable devices, PLCs and FPGAs. Each week’s lecture had an accompanying set of labs. Remote labs were built around UltraVNC as it was considered easy to use. An onscreen digital panel could be used to switch inputs on and off, identically to local students.

5.  Podcasting was used in presenting a portion of an applied thermodynamics class. Three 50-minute class meetings were replaced with podcasts and a tablet PC was used for class presentation with all lectures captured. The students were not that enthusiastic with missing classes and there was reduced motivation to use the podcasts.

6.  Learningtree, the large training provider in IT subjects developed a web conferencing package called Anywhere. This allows for live streaming of lectures to remote students who log in to a standard classroom session. In addition, students have access to a computer in the classroom allowing them to undertake the same exercises as the classroom-based students.

7.  A MS in Ocean Engineering at Virginia Tech used a combination of Blackboard LMS, Breeze for recording and Centra for both recording and live streaming. An example of one course was that it comprised three weekly web classes of 30 minutes each which were used for presentations (e.g. Advanced Ship Structural Analysis). Homework was given out with rigid deadlines. Quizzes were built into each course; with open book-based mid-term and final exams.

8.  The University of Kentucky used Camtasia Studio to record lectures for a course on Mechanical Vibrations. Students at remote campuses were provided in advance with PowerPoint slides (accessed via the LMS) with handwritten notes recorded using a stylus on a Tablet PC. This approach was particularly useful for demonstrating how to use complex software.