Machine Design

A new learning experience

Long before Al Gore invented the Internet, MACHINE DESIGN had an idea for bringing college-level engineering courses to our readers.

Leland Teschler,

We wanted to partner with an engineering college as a way of getting information into the hands of engineers who couldn't get to a classroom. We went so far as to set up a meeting with a well-known engineering school to pitch the idea.

Their reaction to our concept: Think lead balloon. The sour looks we got were like what you might see today if you suggested that a group of school administrators do stunts from a Jackass movie.

We quickly got their drift. The school had made an investment in classrooms and buildings. They were singularly uninterested in anything that didn't involve filling them. Their euphemism for this mindset was that such efforts might "cheapen the degree."

Fortunately, attitudes have changed since the advent of the Web. Schools of all kinds are much more likely to understand the benefits of extending their learning experience beyond campus walls. Perhaps the most well-publicized effort in this area is the OpenCourseWare program first established by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT now posts the course notes and study materials for over 1,500 of its courses online. Viewers can access the coursework for free but can't get college credit for completing it. MIT sees the project as supporting education worldwide. And officials there say they're not worried about free course material diluting the quality of its education.

OpenCourseWare is catching on. A consortium of more than 100 higher education institutions now supports the idea of publishing online course materials. Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, both among the top10 engineering schools in the U.S., also are getting onboard.

Add to that an almost uncountable number of schools that have begun offering distance-learning over the Web for a fee. No question distance education has mushroomed. And MACHINE DESIGN was finally able to find schools interested in collaborating on distance learning for engineers. Both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Milwaukee School of Engineering now work with us to put lectures into the form of Webinars that augment tutorial material we run in the magazine. We expect to continue and expand that concept this year.

You might wonder what happened to the school that shot down our original ideas about open learning. As far as I can tell, they are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to Web learning. They post some course notes online, but not all of them. And these can only be accessed by their own students. Now when the topic of top engineering schools comes up, this institution's name seldom gets mentioned.

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