Electronic Conferencing for Faculty
Russel C. Jones, Ph.D.,
World Expertise LLC
Bethany S. Oberst, Ph.D.
Many engineering faculty members in developing and emerging
countries find it nearly impossible to participate in continuing professional
development through attendance at major international conferences in their areas
of interest. One mechanism to address this problem is the addition of an
electronic conference component to major engineering education conferences, to
allow distant participation in paper presentation and discussion by such faculty
members. This paper describes two such electronic conferences, organized by the
authors in conjunction with major international conferences – the 2001 annual
meeting of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) and the 2003
joint international conference of the American Society for Engineering Education
(ASEE) and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO). In each
case, an electronic conference was run for several weeks before the live
conference, with papers from distant engineering faculty members posted on a web
site for discussion. Then a summary of the papers and the discussion was
presented at a plenary session at the live meeting, with the session video taped
with the intent of transmitting it back to the authors. In the case of the
electronic conference held in conjunction with the WFEO/ASEE annual meeting, a
summary paper of the plenary session was also produced for publication. Details
of the process of organizing and conducting these electronic conferences are
provided in the paper.
The rationale behind an electronic conference is that 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 Engineering Organizations), SEFI (European Society for Engineering Education), and ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education), etc. Physical attendance at such conferences provides the positive benefit of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
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.
Based on prior experience of the
The electronic conferences described here were organized similar to traditional, place-bound conferences. Accepted papers were arranged into thematic sessions. This was accomplished on the worldwide web by placing related papers under various entry points from the main conference web site. The conference papers could be presented in text form or via web-based slides, a format common at conferences. PowerPoint could be used to generate the slide presentations and accompanying audio. The full text of each paper was available for either reading directly on the web or downloading for later reading and/or printing. 1
As is the case at traditional conferences, discussions related to individual papers were encouraged. Threaded discussion groups were 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 were also organized around each of the thematic sections of the conference. These discussion groups could explore global issues related to the sessions’ themes. Participants could discuss broader issues, compare and contrast papers, and make connections with participants with similar interests.
The SEFI2001 electronic conference
Gearold Johnson, then Academic
Vice President of the
Announcements about the electronic conference began to circulate in the late spring before the conference. Submissions were posted as they were received. At the actual SEFI meeting the papers were summarized and the results presented as part of an experts' panel. The entire session was videotaped with the results to be made available globally using the same technologies as the worldwide poster session.
At the completion of the electronic conference, a summary
session was held in
The 6th World Engineering
Congress on Engineering Education/2nd ASEE International Colloquium
was organized jointly by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations
(WFEO) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE,) and held on
The call for papers for the
WFEO/ASEE e-conference resulted in 74 abstracts being submitted, representing
countries as diverse as Afghanistan, South Africa, China, Nigeria, Ghana,
Argentina, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Romania, Norway, the U.K., and
Lithuania. Authors whose abstracts
were accepted were then invited to submit the complete paper.
All told, 49 papers were accepted and posted on the website. Readers were
invited to browse the papers and to contribute to threaded discussions about one
or more of the contributions.
For the plenary session in
Curriculum and Teaching -- Five
converging themes emerged from the papers in this section: Student intake into
engineering programs, Issues related to the ABET 2000 a-k skills, Preparation
for practice, Computers in teaching and service, and National and international
forces acting on engineering education. Engineering curricula reflect local
politics as well as the economy, history and geography of the country where they
are offered. Engineering education
has clearly become a global enterprise, reflecting transnational concerns.
And electronic conferences and other communication structures to link
engineering educators are greatly needed to ensure that academic preparation
transcends national borders.
Trends in engineering education -- The
sixteen papers reviewed by this panelist were broadly grouped along three basic
themes: teaching and learning, educational issues, and the educational scene.
All the papers reflected the experience of the authors who without exception
were involved in teaching.
Computer, Chemical, Electrical, Industrial and Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics -- Papers in this category were grouped under six themes: Laboratories, Traditional Course Support, First Year Chemical Engineering Courses, Web Course Support for Problem Based Leaning, Large Course Support, and A New Curriculum. Most of the reviewed papers dealt with the use of the World Wide Web to increase access as the educational improvement. However, interestingly, a couple of papers suggested that the use of the web not only increases access to the physical or simulated laboratory experiments but laboratories in a closet could actually decrease costs since laboratory spaces are usually poorly utilized over time.
papers reviewed can be found posted on a permanent website (http://www.asee.org/conferences/e-conference/browse.cfm)
for further reference.4
A set of effective processes has been demonstrated through this pilot demonstration conference, and 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 international conferences.
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 was 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.
At the session at SEFI 2001 where the electronic submissions were presented, discussion suggested that the main conference could be further enhanced if its major elements were also made available electronically afterwards – such as video recording of plenary session presentations, to be posted on a web site for viewing by interested persons who were unable to travel to the conference. Such extensions could significantly enhance the effectiveness of such major international conferences. 2
RUSSEL C. JONES is a private consultant, working
through World Expertise LLC to offer services in engineering education in the
international arena. He has had a long career in education: faculty member at
MIT, department chair in civil engineering at
S. Oberst is
James Madison Distinguished Professor at