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Engineering Faculty and Students Meet the Challenges of Remote Engineering Education

Feb 25, 2021   |

"Translating the hands-on nature of lab assignments to an online environment has been a little more difficult, yet not impossible," reports "For example, Douglas Van Citters, the associate dean of Dartmouth's undergraduate engineering department, wanted to ensure students still benefited from experimental learning. He, like many people, believes learning through doing is essential to engineering education.

"Van Citters told ASME, 'We strive to put the students into the laboratory or a machine shop, to get their hands dirty and make things happen.' Without campus facilities, he was not sure how they could support this type of learning. He recalled, 'I wasn't quite sure how they would respond. But being around a bunch of engineers, everybody just rolled up their sleeves and said, "Let's make it happen."'

"Their solution was to focus on finding ways to provide students with access to hardware and construction machines. This involved creating lab packages of inexpensive off-the-shelf engineering tools. If the students could not go to the lab, the lab would be mailed to them.

"The lab kits overcame some of the issues around equal access to technology, but there were still additional challenges to overcome. 'Where we can somewhat democratize their access to technology, for instance, providing an internet connection, we will,' said Van Citters. 'But we can't guarantee that if they're spread around the world. That has been eye-opening. We have sent cellphone minutes to students overseas just so that they could dial into class. We are doing our best to remove the barriers wherever we can.'"

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