June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.129.1 - 14.129.14
A Tale of Two Cities: Distance Learning Technologies in an Inter-Institutional BME Department
In 2006, The University of Texas established an inter-institutional Department of Biomedical Engineering encompassing three campuses: The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Since the campuses of the participating institutions are in two cities separated by about 170 miles, distance learning technologies are key for the pedagogical component of the graduate program. As this program began, we conducted a series of surveys and focus groups to assess faculty and students’ perceptions of their distance learning needs and competencies. Our findings indicated that faculty were, for the most part, unaware of today’s instructional tools and their challenges. Students, on the other hand, were concerned about the professor’s abilities to support communications and interactions in a distance learning environment. Armed with these initial insights, we implemented our first round of distance learning (DL) courses for the inter- institutional department. The results of our first post-DL survey, coupled with student and faculty testimony, indicate that “we’ve only just begun” when it comes to realizing the potential of distance learning. We will share our lessons learned, student survey results, and our plans for improving distance learning offerings.
Introduction Teaching to students who are not physically on site is not a new notion for correspondence classes began as far back as 1728 when students taking short hand lessons could send in their lessons.1 Given today’s technologies, however, students can virtually attend classes and partake in labs. It is estimated that a third of all post-secondary schools offer distance learning (DL) options and that the number of enrollments will steadily increase.2 Simply put, distance education is defined as a formal education process in which the student and instructor are not in the same place with an estimated 12.2 million students enrolled in these classes.3
Despite the availability of various instructional technologies and a better understanding of how people learn, “in distance education, the field is still wide open for creativity and innovation in the curriculum, instructional techniques, and use of delivery technology.” 4 Like any discipline, engineering has unique demands and these typically require students to have physical knowledge that only lab activities and hands-on experiences can provide.5 Yet today’s instructional technology tools can help to promote interactions and hands-on learning and as a consequence, engineering education is being offered through DL. Yet adopting the methods of quality online learning has been slow to take hold in engineering education. 6 Often the engineering courses that are offered through DL are at the graduate level. Speculation has been that the special needs (i.e. laboratory work and the operation of instruments) of undergraduates have slowed down the development of DL courses. These special needs still exist for engineering graduate students, but they may, for example, be able to work more independently and have access to facilities where they conduct research.
Proceedings of the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education
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