On-Line Education in HSSoE

by Melanie Kilian, CECS Technology Writer
July 16, 2012

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 on-line courses to the general public, while others, such as the University of Phoenix, offer degree programs that are completely on-line.

However, there are still mixed feelings about on-line education.  Most administrators and some faculty are excited about the possibilities that on-line offers but the majority of faculty are
unsure. (Ref1) Regardless of the controversy they are generating, on-line courses are having a strong impact on university education and as Stanford president, John Hennessy said: “Online education is going to change the world and it’s going to change the way we think about education.” (Ref2)

On-line 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 on line 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 Gajski  is teaching his Digital Design 101 class concurrently in-class and on-line. He has been developing the on-line version of  this class for the last 3 years by recording the concepts, strategies and lectures and creating videos of his TAs solving problems and discussing course concepts with students.

He emphasizes the distinction between in-class and on-line: “On-line 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. 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.”

Prof. Gajski’s course comes as great news for some UC Santa Cruz students who used it to complete their degree, this summer.

TAs in the hybrid or on-line class say that they now have more student interactions and receive more substantial questions:  “We have already been receiving positive feedback from students for our online course material for Digital Design. 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 TA, I have noticed 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.”  – Quoc-Viet Dang, TA

UCI’s Department of Education is interested in demonstrating the use of on-line education in engineering and proving its usefulness. According to Education and Informatics Prof. Mark Warschauer: “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. Prof. Gaijski’s class provides a well-developed example for investigating what works and what doesn’t in online engineering education.”

Introducing on line 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.  As President Hennessey says: “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. To do this, however, universities have to be willing to change”. (Ref2)


  1. Kolowich, S. (2012) “Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2102,”  Inside Higher Ed, 21 June, 2012
  2. Perry, T. S. (2012) “John L. Hennessy: Risk Taker,” IEEE Spectrum, May, 2012: 30-32.