Online Education in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Professor Daniel Gajski helps pioneer online education at UC Irvine

Contributed by: Melanie B. Kilian, Center for Embedded Computer Systems (CECS)

There is lot of interest in on-line teaching. Flexible, self-paced and lower in cost, online courses are shaking up the status quo. Top universities such as Stanford and MIT are offering free online courses to the general public, while others, such as the University of Phoenix, offer degree programs that are completely online.

However, there are still mixed feelings about online education. Administrators and some faculty are excited about the possibilities that online courses offer, but the majority of faculty are unsure. Regardless of the controversy they are generating, online courses are having a strong impact on university education and as Stanford University President John L. Hennessy said “Online education is going to change the world and it’s going to change the way we think about education.”

Online education has tremendous potential, if properly applied. Watching a video-recorded lecture or a talking head with a set of slides can be just as stupefying as sitting in a big classroom with hundreds of students listening to a lecturer. Successful online education must utilize the full range of multi-media presentations and a completely new methodology for learning. This Summer, for the first time in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, Professor Daniel D. Gajski, Ph.D., is teaching his Digital Design 101 class concurrently in-class and online. He has been developing the online version of this class for the last three years by recording the concepts, strategies and lectures and creating videos of his teaching assistants solving problems and discussing course concepts with students.

“Online is self-paced and interactive so that students can proceed at their own speed and quickly click on links that will get them to points they need to review,” says Gajski. “They can also watch the lecture and discussion videos as many times as they want and use an electronic forum to ask questions. We are now working with the Department of Education to develop the most efficient and effective learning methodology for engineering education. The main issues to be answered are how to present material and how to interact with students.”

“We have already been receiving positive feedback from students for our online course material for digital design,” says teaching assistant Quoc-Viet Dang. “With our online course, students can efficiently use their time to focus on where they feel they need to improve. If they get lost or confused while watching a lecture video, they can refer to other course material and videos, and then come back to that lecture later; this is not feasible during a traditional in-class lecture. Also, as a teaching assistant, I have noticed that I receive more relevant and interesting questions regarding the course work outside of class via email and the online message boards than during lecture or discussion.”

“It's not just a matter of putting content on the Internet, but also of organizing it in a way that best takes advantage of the medium to meet the learning needs of students, says Professor Mark J. Warschauer, Ph.D., School of Education and founding director of UCI’s Digital Learning Lab. “Professor Gaijski's class provides a well-developed example for investigating what works and what doesn't in online engineering education.”

Introducing online technology in pure or hybrid form is only the first step. Online education shows great promise but there is still work to be done to bring it into the mainstream. “I’d like to think that universities will see [online education] as a way to organize education and to play a larger role in the world,” Hennessey says. “To do this, however, universities have to be willing to change.”