June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
Two Year College Division
11.43.1 - 11.43.11
A Distributed Learning Network Unites the Mid-south
In the spring of 2005, the Engineering Technologies Department (ENTC) of Southwest Tennessee Community College (Southwest) made its first attempt at distance learning. A computer-aided drawing course, part of the Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology programs, was taught at two locations at the same time. This grant-funded experiment was a success—in fact, so successful that ENTC gained three more grants to continue its distance learning development. The trial run validated many of the concerns faculty had about adapting technical curriculum to this medium but it also brought about solutions. Not everything went as planned and one unexpected problem in particular caused the department to rethink its strategy. This paper will examine the ENTC distance learning model and how it attempts to meet the needs of a two-year engineering technology program and the community it serves. The paper will discuss strengths and limitations of the equipment and software and will provide critical comment on the course management strategy used. Finally, the paper will discuss how the model was redesigned into what is now a “distributed learning network” along with plans for the future.
II. History and Distance Learning Model Development
The Southwest ENTC department promotes a positive learning environment through the use of hands-on laboratory experience. Large investments in training equipment combined with college level theory helped set Southwest apart from other Mid-south schools. Feed back from the 2002 ABET accreditation review included praise for the laboratories and hands-on curriculum. Feed back from employer surveys indicated a high degree of satisfaction with the technical proficiency of Southwest graduates. Finally, feed back from student surveys indicated satisfaction with the hands-on approach. Over 30 years of positive feed back made the faculty uneasy about changing the formula and uncertain how to maintain the quality of the curriculum if taught over a distance learning connection. This reluctance is understandable according to educational studies that link the method and effectiveness of distance learning to the technology being used1. It would not be possible to teach the same material the same way.
Early Internet-based distance learning programs were lecture-only in content with limited interaction between student and teacher, factors that made it easy to dismiss distance learning as a nice idea but one not suited for the two-year technical program. As distance learning went legitimate with big name universities offering courses and entire programs over the wire, it became obvious Internet-based distance learning was here to stay. However, the majority of courses offered remained non-technical and lecture only. Southwest invested heavily in distance learning technology and began promoting the idea of extending accessibility of degree programs throughout the college. Predictably, business and other lecture-oriented programs were the first to utilize the distance learning equipment. The Southwest college administration began putting pressure on its ENTC department to develop courses for distance learning. The ENTC department was unmoved and would remain so as long as questions of how to maintain the
Wood, G. (2006, June), A Distributed Learning Network Unites The Mid South Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--446
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