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Online engineering course emphasizes interactive learning

‘Exploring Engineering’ is the first online pre-college course the U. will offer for free

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 8, 2013

The Office of Continuing Education will offer its first free pre-college online course, an introductory course entitled “Exploring Engineering,” starting next month through Canvas Network.

The course will be offered through Canvas instead of Coursera, the online course platform that will host three Brown massive open online courses this summer, to allow the University to try out another method of virtual instruction, said Harriette Hemmasi, University librarian and chair of the strategic planning Committee on Online Teaching and Learning. The Coursera massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs, will be free, not for credit and open to anyone.

“The more opportunities that we take advantage of and the more experimentation, the better,” Hemmasi said.

 

Career exploration

“Exploring Engineering” was created to allow pre-college students considering an engineering career to learn more about the various fields within the subject.

“There was a huge need for students to learn what engineering is,” said Wendy Drexler, director for online development at Continuing Education.

About 50 to 60 percent of students who start out studying engineering change their majors, she said. “(Students) are directed toward engineering without fully understanding what that means,” she said.

Students switch because the content is not what they expect, the material is too hard or they don’t know how the courseload relates to a job associated with engineering, she said.

Students should take “Exploring Engineering” first, as a foundation, before moving on to a specific area, Drexler said.

The two-week introductory course is offered alongside three other two-week pre-college online courses — materials engineering, biomedical engineering and renewable energy — which have pricetags ranging from $395 to $695. They will focus on nanotechnology, tissue engineering and wind turbine design, respectively. This is the first time all of the online pre-college engineering courses will be running separately, she said.

 

An interactive experience

The introductory class will have minimal lecturing, said Jesse Schreier, Continuing Education instructional designer. Instead, the course will have materials to read, interviews to watch and activities to do, Schreier said.

“We hope it’s very interactive,” he said. “We’ve designed (the course) so that students log in every day, and the idea is for them to have daily activities.”

Throughout the course, students will “make a plan for their college coursework so that they can envision what it’s like to become an engineer,” he said. There will also be a project component in which students will design a playground and build a prototype on Lego Digital Designer software.

“We don’t want them to just watch a lecture,” Schreier said. “We want them to take part of the process themselves.”

Different variables will be “thrown at” the students, such as having a project’s budget cut in half, he said. “Students will have to interact through discussion boards, brainstorm together and share ideas,” Schreier added.

Karen Haberstroh, director of STEM outreach and assistant professor of engineering, is the instructor for the introductory course but will have more of a facilitator role, Schreier said. “It’s hard when you’re in a MOOC to facilitate so many people. Her role is going to be choosing specific discussions and threads that are illuminative of bigger questions and issues,” he said.

No final grades will be given out at the end of the course, according to Canvas Network’s website.

 

Online experimentation

Launched in November, Canvas Network is hosted by Instructure, the same company that manages Canvas, the University’s new learning management system.

“There’s so many different meanings and methods for teaching online,” Hemmasi said. The University aims to understand what is useful to both faculty members and students, she said.

“The University has moved from Blackboard to Canvas, so we have already been using this system,” Drexler said. “(The course) was easy to build … in Canvas Network so that everyone from everywhere can access the course.”

Though Continuing Education has been offering online courses geared toward pre-college students every semester for the past four years — with subjects ranging from DNA to entrepeneurship — “Exploring Engineering” is the first pre-college online course provided for which students do not have to pay tuition to enroll.

 

Worldwide impact

“Exploring Engineering” has been capped at 500 students. The number of students allowed to enroll in the course was set by Instructure.

The April section of the course “filled up within three weeks,” Drexler said, so a second section in June was created. “I have to be honest, I was kind of surprised it filled up as quickly as it did,” she said.

The June section of “Exploring Engineering” will have the same course content but may be tweaked based on the first section’s outcome, she said. “We are hoping to learn an awful lot from the first go-around,” Drexler said.

“This is a grand experiment, and we’re going to learn a lot about MOOCs,” Schreier said.

While the college-level content was created for high school students, there are no controls on who can participate in the course. “We have participants from … every continent from all over the world. We’re very excited about it,” Drexler said.

Students need to create an ID and password on the Canvas Network to enroll.

The class was mostly advertised by Instructure when it launched the Canvas Network, Drexler said. One reason why the other engineering courses have costs is because of their small sizes, Schreier said. Instructors and teaching assistants will engage in “hands-on interaction with the students,” Schreier said.

“We think it’s really terrific that the Continuing Education program is reaching out to high school students and to other students really around the world,” Hemmasi said.

“Exploring Engineering” differs from other MOOCs in that students will be engaging with the material rather than just watching a lecture and taking a quiz on it, Schreier said.

If the free introductory class goes well, Continuing Education may design more, depending on demand, Drexler said.

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  1. Tirun Travel Marketing says:

    Wow its great thought, Exploring Engineering” was created to allow pre-college students considering an engineering career to learn more about the various fields within the subject, We think it’s really terrific that the Continuing Education program is reaching out to high school students.

  2. Excelonz Practice to Excel says:

    Wow its great thought, Exploring Engineering” was created to allow pre-college students considering an engineering career to learn more about the various fields within the subject, We think it’s really terrific that the Continuing Education program is reaching out to high school students.

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