Teaching Undergraduate Mechanics Via Distance Learning: A New Experience

By Thiagarajan, Ganesh; Jacobs, Carolyn | Journal of Engineering Education, January 2001 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Undergraduate Mechanics Via Distance Learning: A New Experience


Thiagarajan, Ganesh, Jacobs, Carolyn, Journal of Engineering Education


ABSTRACT

The use of distance learning via televised instruction in engineering education dates back to the late 1960's when several universities, including Stanford, began offering engineering graduate courses through this medium. Graduate courses are often relatively small in enrollment, are offered to mature learners, and are generally less sensitive to technical difficulties. Undergraduate education, especially at the sophomore level, is vastly different in this regard. The students are less mature and in many cases have had no introduction to engineering. However, recent technological developments have provided universities with tools to consider undergraduate distance learning seriously. This paper describes the experiences of teaching Statics, the first mechanics course, to two classrooms in the same university simultaneously without a television to view the instructor. This is the first time this has been attempted in the State of Louisiana. The description of the media, the delivery system as well as assessment and outcomes based on statistical analysis of data collected are presented and analyzed in this paper.

I. INTRODUCTION

Engineering education is undergoing rapid, multi-faceted transformations. These include curricular changes encouraged by the accreditation process of ABET Engineering Criteria 2000, as well as in teaching methods and techniques. Technological innovations have opened up new vistas to be explored in imparting engineering education. One of these changes is the growing demand for distance learning. The term "distance learning" is restricted in this paper to the real-time process of teaching students in a remote classroom, by an instructor located in another room, via various electronic media.

Distance learning is not a new concept; for example Stanford University began offering distance learning programs for graduate level engineers in 1969,1 using a one-way video and two-way audio format. The advent of technology has led to developments such as two-way video, video streaming, and compressed video formats. Most of these courses have typically been offered at the graduate level or as continuing education courses. Current state-of-the-art includes online courses and even online degree programs. Both educators and practicing engineers see the greatest advantages of web-- based and distance learning courses in credit and non-credit continuing education, as effective ways to keep the students' skills current while allowing the students to retain their day jobs. The suitability of distance learning methods for graduate engineering courses is well established both in terms of delivery and students' ability to adapt to this learning technique.

Distance learning in undergraduate education is a relatively new development. This paper describes an effort at Louisiana State University to teach the first engineering mechanics course, Statics, simultaneously in two classrooms. In this experiment the course was broadcast simultaneously to an adjacent receiving room. The receiving room was equipped with a projection screen, which could receive an image of either the instructor or an electronic white board, but not both simultaneously. Students in the receiving room thus lack visual clues from the instructor. The development of this technology would permit the offering of multiple sections of the same course simultaneously in different classrooms with one instructor. With recent increases in student enrollment, this form of learning could be attractive in large service courses. This paper describes the procedures used to adapt the available technology, along with the difficulties experienced. The results are presented in the form of statistical data gathered from various examinations administered, observed attendance patterns, and statistical analysis of student feedback

The nature of the course offering provided an ideal setting for comparison. The students were from the same university, the course was offered at the same time to both groups, the broadcasting and receiving rooms were next to each other, and students from either section had the option to sit in either of the two class rooms.

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