Continuing Education for Engineering Educators in
Developing Countries via Electronic Communications
T. J. Siller, R.C. Jones, and G.R. Johnson
This presentation describes a pilot project of attaching a worldwide poster session to an international conference for engineering educators via electronic communications using the Internet and the World Wide Web. It is intended to attract those, particularly engineering educators in developing countries, who are unable to continue their own educations by traveling to live conferences. The hope is that such educators will use provided web locations to share 'best practices' with their peers globally, and in the process of reviewing other such submissions will continue their own professional development. At the time of the IACEE conference in Toronto, the worldwide poster session should be operational. After several months, the papers will be summarized and the results presented as part of an experts' panel at the September 2001 SEFI annual meeting in Copenhagen. These results will be made available globally using the same technologies as the worldwide poster session.
Engineering educators throughout the World need continued stimulation from colleagues in order to stay abreast of new developments in their field, and thus to stay relevant and up to date in their teaching. Active faculty members with adequate resources often accomplish this collegial interaction through participation in international conferences on engineering education, sponsored periodically by organizations such as UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization), WFEO (World Federation of Engingeering Organizations), SEFI (Societe Europeenne pour la Formation des Ingenieurs, or in its English translation, the European Society for Engineering Education), ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education), etc.
Unfortunately, engineering educators teaching in developing
countries often do not have the resources to participate in such conferences.
Travel expenses, conference registration fees, and on-site expenses are
typically beyond their means. This often leads to a steady decline in their
effectiveness as faculty members, as they fall increasingly behind new
developments in engineering education.
Engineering has always been a major part of the development
of nations and wealth creation. Building
infrastructure from roads, bridges, sanitation facilities, potable water, and
the development of industries from mining to high technology all require that a
nation educate its own engineers. Sending bright young people abroad for education works for a
while, but the process ultimately requires that these people be educated at
home. In the developing world, many
engineering educators have been educated abroad, return home to educate the
local population, but then fall further and further behind due to the
inaccessibility of state-of-the-art methods in engineering education, 'best
practices' of peer instructors, etc. Maintaining
networked connectivity is one way the future will provide a nation with a base
of well-educated engineering graduates to fuel technical industries.
An electronic conference, based on current web-based technology, has been designed to provide engineering educators in developing nations access to professional development materials. This conference is designed to connect faculty from all over through electronic interactions. In the following sections, details of this conference are provided.
The First Electronic World Conference on Engineering
Education presents a new mechanism for meeting the continuing professional
development needs of widely dispersed engineering faculty members around the
World - particularly those in developing countries. Electronic communication
technologies (Internet and the World Wide Web delivery of papers, e-mail
interchanges of ideas, satellite television broadcasts, streaming video, etc.)
are used to gather important and timely information on engineering education and
then disseminate it throughout the World in a structured way - for the benefit
of engineering educators unable to participate in face-to-face conferences,
which cover similar topics.
Based on National Technological University's experience,
sufficient electronic communication technologies exist, at least in capital
cities throughout the developing world, to allow participation in such an
electronic conference, so that engineering educators there will be able to
participate readily. In target developing countries (e.g. in Africa, Latin
America, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe) the availability of Internet
accessibility will be assessed to determine the easiest and most cost effective
access. It is anticipated that as
many as five or six web-based communication sites will have to be selected by
the organizers of this conference in order to achieve the broad coverage in
developing countries that is intended. Currently, the conference organizers have
commitments from the UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education
(UICEE) at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia to support Southeast Asia;
the Technical University of Budapest for supporting Eastern and Central Europe;
the University of Cairo for supporting the Arab States in the Middle East; and
the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro for supporting Latin America.
Arrangements are pending with a university in South Africa and
preliminary contact has also been made with a university in China.
The conference has been organized similar to traditional,
placed-bound conferences. Accepted papers are arranged into thematic sessions.
This is accomplished on the worldwide web by placing related papers under
various entry points from the main conference web site. Figure 1 presents a
schematic of the conference organization. Under theme one is shown the
components that are common to all the theme sessions. As indicated, the
conference papers are presented via web-based slides, a format common at
will be used to generate the slide presentations and accompanying audio. Also,
the full text of each paper is available for either reading directly on the web
or downloading for later reading and/or printing.
As is the case at traditional conferences, discussions
related to individual papers are encouraged. Threaded discussion groups are
associated with each individual paper to facilitate discussion between
participants, including authors.
To stimulate the type of discussion that often occurs as a
wrap-up at the end of a session, treaded discussions are also organized around
each of the thematic sections of the conference, Figure 1. These discussion
groups can explore global issues related to the sessions’ themes. Participants
can discuss broader issues, compare and contrast papers, and make connections
with participants with similar interests.
At the completion of the conference, a summary session will
be held at the 2001 SEFI conference during September 2001 in Copenhagen. A group
of technical experts has been formed to review the conference activities. This
group will conduct a daylong session to present their summaries, and interact
with one another. Transmission of the session by video means to electronic
participants Worldwide is planned. An audience will be present, consisting of
participants in the face-to-face conference to which the electronic conference
was adhered. Logistics of live electronic interaction with electronic
participants, and time zone constraints will have to be worked out for maximum
effectiveness. Taping of the session has already been arranged through the
Danish Technical University.
Video recordings of the live session will also be made
available, and electronic copies of all papers, to any developing country
engineering educators unable to connect directly to the live transmissions.
Distribution of recordings would be on an at-cost rate. Multiple formats will be
provided, including CD, Video, and Internet.
The success of this conference will be measured using several metrics. First, because the targeted participants were from developing nations, it is important to look at the geographic representation of both authors and participants. Next, as with any conference, the total number of participants is a critical measure of success. The following mechanisms have been designed to allow for a thorough evaluation of this conference.
· The conference web site will include a “registration” form that will gather data from all site visitors. This form will solicit information about the attendees, including name, address, and affiliations. This information will allow us to track the geographic reach of the conference. Once a participant has registered, access will be directly to the papers during all subsequent visits.
· Each paper will have a counter that will monitor the number of visits to the particular paper. This will allow us to track how many times a paper, and cumulatively all papers, are being read during the time preceding the SEFI conference in Copenhagen.
· Preliminary results of the geographic and visit evaluations will be presented during the live conference.
· Questionnaires about the conference will be sent to each author and panel expert to get the perspective of both groups concerning the operation of the conference.
Each site visitor will be provided the opportunity to comment on
the quality of the conference through an Internet survey that will address both
the technical content of the papers, and the logistics of attending an Internet
The ultimate success for this conference will be measured in how well it has accomplished the goal of forming connections between educators throughout the developing nations.
The first call for papers for this conference was distributed in September of 2000 as part of the SEFI announcements for their 2001 conference. Starting in October of 2000, a call for papers was sent via email to faculty members in engineering departments at universities all over the world. The email solicitation was sent to approximately 2000 people, located on six continents, in over 70 countries. During this time, a web site has been maintained with links to the program directors, www.webconferences.org.
At the time of the writing of this paper abstracts for the conference having started to come in. Abstract to date have come from approximately twenty different countires.
Once a set of effective processes have been demonstrated
through this pilot demonstration conference, the results may be easily
transferred to other conference sponsoring groups for inclusion in the normal
conference set of activities. Thus,
such conferences would become part of the general framework for many
Authors from developing countries seldom have access to
funds to support international attendance at conferences.
Providing such funds is outside the realm of possibility.
Even at international conferences, most contributors from the developing
nations are administrators, not faculty. To
provide some sense of what is happening worldwide through international
conferences, some form of electronic participation seems the only cost effective
The convergence of computing and telecommunications has been pointed at for several decades as a changing paradigm. Yet, most of the changes have been relatively simple. Certainly, the World Wide Web alters the ease of getting information and the hypertext transfer protocol is the killer application that killed client/server computing. As the globe becomes more abstract, movement of more than data and information has to occur. Global electronic communities have to be constructed. This project aims to develop a global electronic community among engineering educators and for the first time, include as citizens, engineering educators from developing nations to share their experiences and learn from their peers.
In the not too distant future, conferences as described herein should become pervasive. Travel requirements must decrease if our global society is truly to become a sustainable environment. This project is a pilot to demonstrate that a meaningful transfer of practices can be accomplished without individuals traveling thousands of miles to meet in a face-to-face setting. Other organizations should immediately grasp the importance of such opportunities and distribute the know-how developed during this project to literally hundreds of organizations that sponsor conferences.
Schematic of Conference Organization
Russel C. Jones is a private consultant, working through
World Expertise LLC to offer services in engineering education in the
international arena. He previously served as Executive Director of the National
Society of Professional Engineers. Prior to that, he had a long career in
education: faculty member at MIT, department chair in civil engineering at Ohio
State University, dean of engineering at University of Massachusetts, academic
vice president at Boston University, and President at University of Delaware.
Dr. Gearold R. Johnson is the Academic Vice-President of the National Technological University (NTU) in Fort Collins, Colorado. Before joining NTU, he was on the faculty at Colorado State University (CSU) from 1971. In the ten years before his retirement from CSU in 1994, he held the George T. Abell Endowed Chair in Engineering, Colorado State University's first endowed chair. Dr Johnson is Co-Editor of Computing: Archives for Scientific Computing published by Springer-Verlag, and Assistant Editor of the International Journal of Computing and Software Engineering published by Ablex Publishing. Dr Johnson is a member of the International Committee on Engineering Education (ICEE) that advises the Director-General of UNESCO in Paris, France.
Dr. Thomas J. Siller is a visiting Professor at National Technological University in Fort Collins, Colorado. He also holds an appointment as an Associate Professor at Colorado State University where he has been on the faculty since 1988. During 1997-1998 he served as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at Colorado State University. Dr. Siller served on the Board of Directors for the Technology-Based Engineering Education Consortium (TBEEC), and was the program chair for the 1997 national conference.