The Classroom of the Future: An Internet-Delivered National Course on Thermal Management of Electronics

By Bhavnani, Sushil H.; Bar-Cohen, Avram et al. | Journal of Engineering Education, October 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Classroom of the Future: An Internet-Delivered National Course on Thermal Management of Electronics

Bhavnani, Sushil H., Bar-Cohen, Avram, Joshi, Yogendra K., Journal of Engineering Education


Teaching inter-disciplinary material poses special challenges due to the diversity of student backgrounds. This problem is compounded if the material being taught is intended for both undergraduate and graduate students. Mechanical Engineering faculty members from three universities have come together to address this problem using a layered, multimedia delivery mechanism via the Internet. This has resulted in thefirst-ever, five, fill-duplex, In ternet course taught at any ofthe three partner universities: Auburn University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Minnesota. With the addition of colleagues from industrial sites such as Philips in the Netherlands and three other universities in Japan, Singapore, and Australia, the next offering will expand to become an international course. The authors hope to illustrate that a course delivered over the Internet adds significantly to the learning process in a cost-effective manner.


Rapid advances in electronics manufacturing processes have led to continuing increases in the number of transistors that can be integrated onto a single chip. Dissipating the heat that is generated in this very small region is an increasingly complex problem. Thermal management of electronics is an area of study that encompasses knowledge from subject areas that include heat transfer, stress analysis, reliability, circuit design, and the integrated circuit manufacturing process. Teaching this complex subject matter successfully requires the use of non-traditional teaching methods. It is widely recognized that advanced engineering students are quite capable of self-learning if the material is presented in a structured environment. Multimedia tools prevalent on the Internet can be used to provide an asynchronous self-learning environment.


The course was taught during Winter Quarter 1999 to students at four sites; three sites located at the three partner universities, and the fourth at an industrial location-Lockheed-Martin Tactical Defense Systems, in Eagan, Minnesota. The interaction between the different sites is shown in figure 1, which also lists the students that participated. The unique interaction with a fifth site shown in figure 1 will be described later in this paper.

The commercially available video-conferencing software package CU-SeeMe was used along with appropriate video-cards and a video camera. The low price of these components (all for under $200 per workstation) should make this format easy to implement at other universities as well. The video-conference was facilitated through the Auburn University reflector. The images originated at the University of Minnesota, were captured with TV cameras, normally used for broadcasting courses through the University's RF link, and were then converted to a form suitable for Internet transmission. As can be seen from the following list, the minimum computational platform requirements are quite modest.

A. Hardware Requirements

Intel Pentium(R) PC:

-166 MHz with 32 MB RAM

-6 MB free hard disk space

-Full Duplex sound card

-Windows 95/98/NT

-Ethernet(R)/LAN connection preferred

-a camera w/microphone (example: Logitech Quickcam(R))

-software, White Pine CU-SeeMe(R)- (allows eight sites to be connected at a time)



The class was held between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., Central Time every Thursday, in order to avoid scheduling conflicts among the various sites. The course was structured as follows:

Class time: new pedagogical material, followed by discussion of homework assignments and case studies

Work load: 25 pages of reading per week, 1-2 hours of prerecorded lecture viewing (asynchronously via internet streaming video), one exam, nine homework assignments, three engineering case studies

Grade: 45%, three written case study reports and presentations; 20% take-home final exam; 25% homework, 10% class participation.

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The Classroom of the Future: An Internet-Delivered National Course on Thermal Management of Electronics


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