Web-Based Computer and Electrical Engineering Learning at State University of New York at Stony Brook

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY-SB) has a very strong interest in developing a web-based learning program in computer and electrical engineering. We plan to develop a coherent and efficient paradigm to web-based learning that is adapted to the specifics of education in our area of expertise. This paradigm will include all elements involved in web-based education such as information distribution, student assessment and class management. A special care will be given to improve student-teacher interaction, which showed to be not very efficient in the already existing web-based learning environments. As a result of our research and teaching experience, we will provide a set of hypermedia design guidelines that are generally applicable to web-based education in computer and electrical engineering. Finally, upon need, we will develop a set of software tools that can reduce the amount of work involved in preparing class material. It is well known that existing software technologies demand about 100 hours of preparation for 1 hour of teaching. This makes web-based teaching very tedious and expensive because 4,500 hours are needed to prepare a one-semester course (typically 45 hours of class teaching). Software tools would be free and accessible through the Internet.

There are numerous factors that make web-based education at SUNY-SB not only very appealing but also extremely rewarding:

  • Web-based education would be accessible to a very high number of undergraduate and graduate students. SUNY-SB is currently experiencing a continuously increasing student population majoring in computer or electrical engineering. Nevertheless, number of faculty is growing at a slower pace.
  • Web-based education would facilitate flexible education. Students would be able to take any course-any time. Currently, highly demanded courses i.e. Digital System Design (ESE 318) are taught each semester. This unnecessarily increases the teaching load of faculty and limits their possibility to introduce new courses.
  • Web-based education would enhance group communication, collaboration and cooperation. These elements are critical for the project-centered nature of computer and electrical engineering courses, which involve small/medium size groups of students working at the same project.
  • Web-based education would permit distance learning, which fits extremely well the commuting student population at SUNY-SB. Many undergraduate students commute daily from New York City. As a result, precious time is spent on commuting, which otherwise could be spent for education.
  • Web-based education would be very appealing for the many small/medium size companies that reside on Long Island. Such a system would make course offering more accessible for them.
  • In the future, Web-based education could serve as a main link with other forms of education such as high schools or community colleges. SUNY-SB has a long tradition in the high school mentoring program. Nevertheless, interaction among students and faculty is sometimes difficult due to heavy working loads. A web-based learning system would help not only in relaxing this interaction but also in making the mentoring program more popular.
  • Besides the actual web-based learning process, a network of Sun workstations could be used to conduct laboratory work that involves highly computational tasks i.e. analog and mixed-signal circuit simulations, device simulations, optimizations for circuit/system synthesis etc. Finally, disciplines such as Real-Time Operating Systems (ESE 333) could also beneficiate from a SUN network.

At this point, we envision a strategy that progressively introduces new web-based courses. Our first step would be to develop and implement a set of highly competitive courses in the area of VLSI systems design. This is a new instruction/research area in our department and is extremely appealing to our students. Our next steps would address other domains such as Computer Networks, Computer Architectures, Communications and Signal Processing, Real-Time Systems, Embedded Systems etc. Many of the courses would be developed using the JAVA and ShowMeTV technology developed by SUN. Software tools developed in situ would reduce the amount of work involved in preparing class material. The teaching material would be stored on a server and updated constantly to maintain top quality teaching. Teaching would be done via workstations where every student could attend lectures through ShowMeTV, interact with the Java based whiteboard, and use software package running simultaneously on multiple workstations. Moreover, students would be able to develop software, design VLSI circuits, simulate complex signal processing systems etc while beneficiating from a powerful help facility with multi-media features. With the advent of a web-based teaching environment, each faculty would offer more courses so that students could benefit from a broader education.