Close ties among online classmates overcome geographic distance

Posted on 06. Oct, 2011 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Engineering Professional Development, Issues, Students

Graduation ceremonies for the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP) and Master of Engineering in Engine Systems (MEES) draw people from all over the world. The 40 or so graduates often bring their children, parents, grandparents and significant others to celebrate. “It is not unusual to have 200 people at the combined graduation ceremonies. The students are proud of their accomplishment and proud of their cohort. They want those close to them to meet the people they’ve been studying with for two years,” says Program
Director Wayne Pferdehirt.

What is most striking about the graduation scene is that MEPP and MEES are programs delivered at a distance. The students come to campus for one week each summer, but
otherwise, they work together online.

Instructors say the strong connection that students make with each other is due in part to EPD’s efforts to build learning communities. The programs are designed to get students to work together in project teams, and to interact extensively in online discussions. Each cohort has a wealth of experience, spread across job functions and industries, and the individual students quickly learn the benefits of sharing this experience in relation to the courses they take together. They are solving common problems and find it very useful to see how their peers in other companies and other industries approach these problems.

Students also support each other in their day-to-day coursework. All are working adults and each one arrives with a different set of strengths. “In any of the courses, whether it be statistics, project management or technical communications, there will be some experts and novices. They learn that they can count on each other for moral support and for technical support,” says Pferdehirt.

At the beginning of the MEPP and MEES programs, students take a course called Network Skills for Remote Learners, where they learn to use the tools and techniques required for effective online work. At the end of this course, they are comfortable in the online environment and eager to meet their fellow students in the summer residency week which follows.
Other distance degree programs promote the idea that students should work together, but the EPD programs take that to a whole new level. The results can be seen in the bonds that students form and the contact they continue after graduation.

“There was a great deal of balance in the cohort,” says MEPP graduate David Gottshall. “Such professionals, such diversity, such technical competence. And what I really appreciated about our cohort was a lack of competitiveness. There was not a sense of pretense. Everybody was on the team. It didn’t matter what your need was from a fellow cohort, they were there.”UW crest

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.