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ASU rises in ranks of online engineering graduate programs

marco saraniti online instruction
January 09, 2014

Arizona State University’s online engineering graduate programs rose to a ranking of 11 among more than 70 leading online programs throughout the United States listed in the annual ratings by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering offer online master’s degrees in electrical engineering, industrial engineering, materials science and engineering, software engineering and construction management.

Online students can also pursue a master’s of engineering with a focus on one of several areas of study – embedded systems, systems engineering, modeling and simulation, engineering management, and quality, reliability and statistical engineering.

About 400 students are currently enrolled in ASU graduate engineering degree programs online, including students from almost every region of the United States and several other countries.

The programs jumped from a ranking of 23 in last year’s U.S. News & World Report magazine rankings.

Continuing innovation

The improvement reflects efforts to expand both the quality and quantity of what the programs offer students, says Jeffrey Goss, executive director of Global Outreach and Extended Education. The office administers the Fulton Schools of Engineering online education program.

“In an era of change in higher education, we are continuing to evolve and innovate. We are adding programs and responding to the work force needs of industry,” Goss says.

He emphasizes that the online degree programs offer the same course material and are taught by the same high-level ASU faculty members who teach courses in the on-campus degree programs.

“Engineering education is not limited to a traditional classroom setting. Our online degree programs combine the flexibility today’s students require and interaction with top faculty,” says Paul Johnson, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. For traditional students living on campus to working professionals across the country, we offer sought-after engineering degrees.”

Highly motivated students

Students, support staff and industry connections also enhance the educational quality of the programs, says electrical engineering professor Joseph Palais, who served for several years as academic director of ASU’s online engineering programs and taught online electrical engineering graduate courses.

“Online classes have attracted high-quality and highly motivated master’s degree students. Many students are sponsored by the companies for which they work,” Palais says.

He adds that reviews of teachers’ performance and students’ progress toward their degrees show broad approval of the online class instruction and presentations, and that “online classes are produced by an experienced and competent group of technical professionals.”

Industry-oriented curriculum

Eric Strennen graduated at the end of the 2013 fall semester, receiving a master’s of engineering degree with a concentration in software engineering that he earned in the ASU online program.

He studied for the degree from his home in Madison, Wis. while working full-time as a software engineer at Cameca Instruments, which designs, develops and manufactures microscopes used in research and industry to analyze metals and semiconductor materials at the atomic scale.

Strennen’s own analysis of online engineering degree programs had led him to choose the Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“The curriculum in other programs I looked at seemed to be more focused on general theory. ASU’s program is more pragmatic and industry-oriented, and I wanted something to help me with professional development and advancement,” he says.

Strennen stresses that he benefited significantly from the online program providing the identical courses taken by on-campus students. “It was not in any way a watered-down version of the education that on-campus students were getting,” he says. “We were held to the same high demands and standards. All that gives more credibility to the online degree I received.”

Benefits of being online

From a technical standpoint, the lectures on video “worked better than I expected. There were very few glitches,” Strennen says. “They obviously have a good technical infrastructure in place.”

The ability to replay class videos online provided a definite advantage for online students, he adds.

He liked that video of classes with on-campus students gave online viewers “good opportunities to experience the interaction between professors and students.”

He found his teachers “engaged and responsive” to online students. “They cared about what they were teaching and what you were learning,” he says.

Strennen sums up: “The degree is definitely going to help me retain my value to the company and to increase my value, should I go elsewhere in my career.”

Instructional advantages

Constantine Balanis, an ASU Regents’ Professor of electrical engineering, who has three decades of experience teaching distance-learning courses, says the Fulton Schools of Engineering online programs feature a distinctive difference that benefits students.

“Our classes are recorded in a studio classroom occupied by on-campus students and made available through the Internet to online students,” Balanis explains. “This is in contrast to other types of online classes that are recorded in a ‘vacuum,’ without the face-to-face presence of students in the classroom.”

This online delivery enables instructors to obtain feedback and engage with students in a classroom environment, which proves valuable for online students as well. The feedback from on-campus students gives instructors an indication of the effectiveness of the lessons and provides cues for instructors about when and how to “tweak” their lesson delivery so students can better comprehend lectures and presentations, Balanis says.

Online education wave of future

Balanis has developed five courses that are taught frequently to online students throughout the United States and in other countries.

“Teaching online classes is more demanding, especially at the initial stages, as the lectures and the corresponding notes must be prepared so they can be delivered in an effective and timely manner in front of cameras,” he says. “But it’s a rewarding experience because it allows the instructor to gain insight on how to effectively teach online classes using this high-tech option, and to compare it with the traditional delivery for a more effective way to teach.”

Balanis has benefitted from the experience he has gained as an online educator at ASU. “Because teaching distance-learning classes demands that you prepare extensive notes for lessons, it motivated me to prepare notes that eventually led to writing my second textbook and later revised editions of both my textbooks,” he says.

Online education “will become much more prevalent in the future as demands increase, especially by those who hold full-time or part-time jobs, while simultaneously pursuing advanced career education,” he says.

Ranking criteria

The U.S. News & World Report 2014 Best Online Engineering Graduate Program Rankings rated programs at 73 schools for which all required coursework for earning degrees can be completed via distance-education courses that incorporate Internet-based learning technologies.

The rankings include programs at public, private and for-profit institutions that grant master’s degrees in engineering and are accredited by ABET, the leading engineering and technology education accreditation board.

Rankings are based predominantly on how the schools engage and interact with online students and on faculty credentials and training. Schools are rated on the quality of student services and technology used to deliver online instruction, and on peer reputation and admissions selectivity.