GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR ENGINEERING EDUCATORS: LESSONS FROM AN ONLINE MASTERS DEGREE FOR PRACTICING ENGINEERS. Don Schramm

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1 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR ENGINEERING EDUCATORS: LESSONS FROM AN ONLINE MASTERS DEGREE FOR PRACTICING ENGINEERS Don Schramm Program Director, Engineering Professional Development Director, University of Wisconsin-Disaster Management Center University of Wisconsin-Madison USA Serving the 21st century engineer To serve digital age learners effectively and efficiently in today s global environment, engineering educators can integrate online learning into graduate programs for engineers, scientists and managers. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice(MEPP) is an example of one successful fast-track approach for completion in two years. There are several lessons learned from four years of program development and three years of course delivery. One MEPP course, International Engineering Strategies and Operations, is highlighted in this paper as an example of the key characteristics of the program. Comments from students are also included for another point-of-view. Common barriers to graduate study Most practicing engineers are not easily able to spend two or more years for an oncampus masters program. An engineering campus may not be nearby, leading to a long commute. There are inevitable conflicts with rigid class schedules, unpredictable work requirements, family obligations and travel for work. Evening or weekend programs can take more than two years to complete. However, carefully designed distance learning can provide a practical, cost-effective solution for meeting family needs, satisfying ongoing work requirements and incorporating concurrent graduate study. Building on half a century of engineering professional development With more than fifty years experience as educational entrepreneurs presenting professional development seminars and workshops, the University of Wisconsin, Department of Engineering Professional Development(EPD) began in the 1990s to explore the need for a masters-level program for practicing engineers. Since distance learning was a consideration, EPD also built on several decades of experience with distance learning, starting with SEEN(Statewide Engineering Education Network) in 1969(REF#1). MEPP development process

2 Starting in 1994 with a business plan and an extensive survey of client needs, EPD identified key knowledge and skill gaps cited by practicing engineers. An instructional support team was assembled and faculty were selected for the ten most critical course topics identified from the survey. Each course was developed by a team consisting of instructor/author, instructional designer, online systems technician, platform manager, editor, webmaster and graphic artist. Every course was pilot tested for a full semester before the first class was welcomed online in June MEPP two-year curriculum The two-year MEPP degree requires 26 graduate credits obtained by completing TEN courses, plus TWO one-week summer residencies. Two courses are taken each semester with the expectation that students spend about 20 hours a week doing independent coursework and participating in online group activities. Here is the curriculum(ref#2): Year One: Summer --Network Skills for Remote Learners Year One: Fall --Engineering Economic Analysis and Management --Technical Project Management Year One: Spring --Engineering Problem Solving with Computers --Communicating Technical Information Year Two: Summer --Independent Reading and Research in Applied Engineering Year Two: Fall --Engineering Applications of Statistics --International Engineering Strategies and Operations Year Two: Spring --Quality Engineering and Quality Management --Engineering and Business Data Communications Creating and Maintaining the Virtual Engineering Office MEPP key characteristics The Master of Engineering in Professional Practice(MEPP) provides an alternative to an MBA for mid-career engineers seeking to advance in project and engineering management. Courses were developed and are taught by professionals from academia and industry, assisted by instructional support teams. There are several key characteristics of the program which have proven especially beneficial. --Using instructional design

3 All courses are designed and implemented with the assistance of an instructional designer. Courses are internally and externally evaluated during and after each offering. Longer term program evaluations(at six months and two years after graduation) also assist in continuous fine tuning of course content and delivery(ref#3). --Designing for blended learning The MEPP program values teamwork and the importance of interaction in solving problems, but the curriculum also requires independent work. In addition to summer face-to-face learning activities, each course is a further blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Courses include weekly web-based, audio-graphic group teleconferences. They also include substantial independent, individualized learning, using the web-based discussion forums and for interaction. All courses have textbooks accompanied by study guides and may be supplemented with web-based document sharing, CDs or videos. --Working in a cohort Students work through the two-year degree program as a cohort on a timed schedule of completion. Each cohort takes the same courses at the same time, allowing for participation in group projects and discussion. Sharing ideas and knowledge among classmates becomes an important part of the overall learning experience. This collaboration broadens individual perspectives and builds team problem-solving skills. Other classmates represent an important resource for information and assistance throughout the MEPP program. --Starting with learning network skills Network Skills for Remote Learners is a one-credit course that provides the tools, strategies and skills for successful participation in the MEPP program. This first course introduces students to the program web site and tools while providing guidance on time management, online protocols, desktop management, use of standard computer applications, transferring files and managing information(ref#4). --Including summer residency Scheduled for August, these on-campus sessions conclude the summer coursework and orient students for fall courses. During one week, students develop a clearer understanding of the program goals, course requirements and university resources available for a distance student. Most importantly, this is an opportunity to build relationships among fellow students, faculty, support staff and MEPP alumni that will help maximize the program's benefits(ref#5). --Providing timely learner and faculty support In addition to the learning support from a cohort of fellow students and course instructor, MEPP offers a student counselor, technical advisor, online system operators, webmaster and a university library liaison--all dedicated to the MEPP program. Editors, graphic artists and instructional designers also work with faculty instructors(ref#6). One MEPP course example

4 One critical, perceived client need led to the development of a new course, International Engineering Strategies and Operations. This course offers a comparative examination and analysis of global trends with regional variations of engineering concepts, standards and practices. Using organizational case studies, multi-national and national engineering operations are explored, summarizing best practices and caveats. There are two required textbooks, plus a loose-leaf and/or online study guide (syllabus and course notes). There is also an online document sharing depository for both instructor and student handout materials--both text and graphics. The course is organized into three modules, covering 15 calendar weeks of study. Each module focuses on key objectives important culturally to international engineering operations. Each module is further divided into lessons, including readings, activities and assignments. The course week runs from Monday to Sunday. Each week there are several topical discussion forums open with ongoing threaded discussions. In addition to these asynchronous discussion forums, there are weekly synchronous audio-graphic teleconferences. The activities designed for this course provide a mix of independent, interdependent, and collaborative work, using asynchronous computer forums and weekly synchronous teleconferences as the principal ways of interaction. The forums are sequenced to encourage participation without overload. For the weekly teleconferences, there are lectures and presentations, some by the instructor, some by guest speakers and most by students. Since this is offered as a graduate research seminar, there are no tests. Students engage in reading, research and online discussions building a portfolio of documentation to assist them in the preparation of a final project--a strategic plan for their business to work in a country of their choice. There are five graded assignments, including individual projects- - technical papers and online presentations; and including team projects--research discussions and online presentations(ref#7). MEPP student comments The Master of Engineering in Professional Practice is advanced e-learning for practicing engineers. The problem-based, application-oriented curriculum prepares working professionals for growing responsibilities and technical leadership roles. MEPP offers convenient Internet-based delivery, learning integrated with job responsibilities, a worldclass faculty, and unmatched student success rates and satisfaction. "The MEPP program is more than taking courses to earn a degree. The skills that are taught apply to real-world engineering practice. You are not just learning from the professor, but from the experiences of the other engineers in your class. All of this plus the flexibility to complete the coursework at home, at work, or halfway around the globe. Where's the downside?" --Design Engineer

5 "If you're on campus and you go to a faculty member s office hours, you stand out in the hall while your fellow student is in the office getting answers to his questions. And then you go in and get the answers to your questions. With the MEPP program and the interactive discussion forums, you can post a question out there to the faculty member and you will not only get responses from the faculty member, but you'll also get answers from fellow students, who share other examples. Or perhaps the faculty member explains something and everybody gets to see the answer. So it's better interaction than you get on campus." --Director of Emissions Compliance "I chose distance education because the travel requirements of my job and the location of my company make it difficult for me to access a major university in an onsite program. I travel at a moment's notice and it s unscheduled, so it's hard to get a three-days-a-week evening class. Plus, for me to take a class at a major college, I'd have to drive approximately an hour, an hour and a half, each way. So instead of spending three hours a day in the car, I felt I could use that time to work on the program." --Product Safety Engineer "The MEPP program attracted me because of the institution providing the education, the difference in the type of transmission of the course material. It wasn't going to be talking heads on videotapes. It wasn't going to be just a little window into a classroom. It was taking advantage of the interactive capability of the Internet, being able to do not only teleconferencing but conferencing using Internet facilities and interacting with the students." --Senior Engineer All student comments are taken from "MEPP: An advanced online degree for working engineers"(ref#2). Evaluation and lessons learned After ten semesters of operation, MEPP students have a course completion rate of over 99%. The second class graduated in May The program is designed to admit a cohort of 30 students each June. In the first year there were 24 students admitted with 30 students admitted in each of the following three years. Of 114 admitted students, only one has left the program. The program has also had the flexibility to allow two students to sit out for a period of time due to unexpected job changes. For continuous improvement, there are course evaluations at the end each semester. There are also periodic feedback opportunities during each course. As each class graduates, there is an end-of-program evaluation from each student. Six months after graduation, there is a post-graduation program impact survey--interviewing students, family members and employers. Additional longer range impact surveys are also planned. Here are a few key lessons we learned:

6 Start with a thorough survey of your clientele s needs Ensure strong program leadership and university commitment Begin with faculty instructors committed to distance learning Spend more time and money on content, with less emphasis on simply trying out instructional technologies Take time to develop and pilot test each course Encourage enrollment using a cohort model Use a blended learning approach(face-to-face, synchronous and asynchronous learning activities) Incorporate problem-based methodology with opportunities to link learning to current job responsibilities Emphasize collaborative learning strategies and methods Stress the need for ongoing student and faculty support staff Consider alumni resources for future learning/teaching opportunities Our challenge is to keep learning from our own lessons and maintain the high standards already set for MEPP as the program evolves. Our responsibility is to share what we have learned with others looking to develop comparable programs. References 1--Schramm, Donald, "Video and the Wisconsin Idea, Compendium on Uses of Television in Engineering Education, American Society for Engineering Education, MEPP: An advanced online degree for working engineers, , online at: 3--Kearsley, Greg, "MEPP: A Case Study in Online Education," The Technology Source, January/February Smith, et.al., "Network Skills for Remote Learners," Syllabus and Course Notes, Pferdehirt, et.al., MEPP Program Resource Guide, Al-Ashkar, Karen, "Support for Students at a Distance: Is Technology Enough?" Proceedings of 2000 ASEE Annual Conference and Exhibition, Session 1322, American Society for Engineering Education, Schramm, et.al., "International Engineering Strategies and Operations," Syllabus and Course Notes, DON SCHRAMM is with the Department of Engineering Professional Development, University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has worked in education for more than two decades throughout the world. Don developed and teaches International Engineering Strategies and Operations as part of the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice, Wisconsin s advanced degree delivered at a distance via the internet.

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