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Redefining “Distance” Education: Increasing Diversity, Accessibility, And/Or Classroom Participation In Engineering Courses On A Time, Financial And Technology Shoestring

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Web-Based Education

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1230.1 - 12.1230.7



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Paper Authors


Thomas Walker Virginia Tech

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Associate Professor of Engineering Education at VPI & SU. He earned his BSEE degree from Purdue University and his MSME from the Naval Postgraduate School. His primary academic and pedagogical interests are in the areas of distance/asynchronous learning technologies and methods, object-oriented programming, and object-oriented modeling. He is a licensed Professional Engineer.

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Redefining “Distance” Education: Increasing Diversity, Accessibility, and/or Classroom Participation in Engineering Courses on a Time, Financial, and Technology Shoestring


This paper presents four semesters of methodology and results, some expected, some unexpected, from using Tablet PC technology and appropriate software tools to teach an introductory problem solving programming course for second-year engineering majors. The methods used provide both real and virtual seats in the same course with real student asynchronous world-wide participation at very minimal personal, personnel, technology, and time costs for both students and instructors. The results are overwhelmingly positive and the methods can be applied to all or parts of multiple courses and curricula. There is definite applicability to K-12 outreach programs as well as community/junior college collaborative programs. Issues addressed include learning styles, under-represented minority participation, student peer support and collaboration, student classroom participation, budgetary and personnel resources, computer grading, and course management systems. Methods and technologies involved will be used and demonstrated during the presentation.


The concept of “distance” or “online” courses is not only generally accepted by most engineering schools, appropriately and properly developed courses are demanded by students, administrators, and, in the case of publicly-funded institutions, state governments. Until very recently, courses were simply divided into two specific categories, “online/distance” or “in-class/traditional”, based solely on the method (or place) of delivery/receipt which was either over the “web” or in the classroom. The widespread availability of web-based “course management systems” (CMS) in the late 1990s provided a catalyst for foundational changes in course delivery. As CMS capabilities continue to expand and improve they have been adopted by faculty and students as an integral part of the undergraduate academic experience. Progressive instructors understand that “…CMS enables teachers to extend the classroom beyond its traditional boundaries of time and space."1 Of course, instructors might also take the time to replace “CMS” with “textbooks” and reread that sentence. The question is not one of “extending the classroom” with technology – it is one of changing the teaching/learning paradigm with technology in a way that enhances “learning” without requiring significant additional financial, temporal, or physical resources. Coincidentally, driven largely by a combination of decreasing resources and increasing demand, engineering instructors are being “encouraged” to develop “online” versions of their courses. The two greatest disincentives to offering engineering courses in “distance” mode are the additional effort required for faculty to prepare and deliver the materials and the concurrent loss of the immediate feedback the instructor receives in a typical “small” classroom environment. An “online” offering of a course typically increases the faculty effort by a factor of four to six and, without costly broadband communications equipment and operating personnel, it is difficult for students to ask questions of the instructor or the instructor to poll or quiz the students.

Walker, T. (2007, June), Redefining “Distance” Education: Increasing Diversity, Accessibility, And/Or Classroom Participation In Engineering Courses On A Time, Financial And Technology Shoestring Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2621

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