These are my notes from Kurt Gramoll ‘s keynote presentation “Delivering Distance Engineering Courses Utilizing Web-based Electronic Media” at the Spring 2010 ODLA conference on April 23, 2010 at the OU K-20 Center. Simon is a professor at Oklahoma University. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

– professor at OU
– aerospace and mechanical engineering
– research in Engineering Education
– structural analysis is “other” research
– electronic media is perfect for engeineering
— time-based simulations
— 3D animations and visualization
– Common problems: budgets and time
— political issues as an added constraint
— distance learning is a potential solution

I can’t do 3D animations and visualization without a computer
Example: Salad Spinner (see how it operates)

Dynamics eBook: Multiple Gears

I get around copyright issues by just building materials myself (because I don’t want to hassle with legal issues)
Creative Commons was not around 8-10 years ago when I was starting with this

etextbooks can be cheaper for students

Learning Tools: Old and New
– tutor: great if you can afford it
– topic expert: traditional instructor
– book: long storage of knowledge
– CD: losing importance
– Laboratory: trial and error, time consuming
– Group Discussion: collaboration
– Internet: the new library

I have found if I don’t save the instructor TIME, the resources I create do NOT get used

Needed features for the learning system I wanted to design:
– eBook
– user tracking
– problems
– examples
– collaboration
– online lecture tool
– course management
– simulations
– animations
– no-downloads (web)
– 3D visualization
– grading
– discussion forum
– lecture creation

When students come in and ask me questions, I can go in with them and see if they’ve opened that section of the course eBook

Very few instructors will write their own questions and upload them to a learning management system
– classic way most instructors test: the 2 book method (teach out of 1 book, ask test questions out of another textbook – which students do NOT have)

I developed this because of problems with WebCT and Blackboard
– needed system with content, not just framework
– needed something to save me time: in 2004/2005 I have 100+ students per class
– wanted to reduce costs to students if possible
– publishers now offering systems:
– Wiley
– Pearson –

8 years ago, WebCT / Blackboard were not oriented toward engineering (MY COMMENT: THEY STILL ARE NOT SPECIFIC TO 1 DISCIPLINE AS FAR AS I KNOW)
– this system I’ll show today can be used exclusively at a distance, but it can also be used in a blended format (and that is how I use it most)

If other instructors (even at other institutions) wants to use my system they can, I host the courses for them
– I use an access key to prevent students from gaining access and setting up their own courses to get all the test questions!

Beams don’t crush, they buckle
– my students must understand this
– I’m trying to give my students interesting case studies which they may not have thought about previously, and then also share the theories which go with it

Mechanics eBook: Beam Stresses

Looking at the user statistics is a nice tool for me, I can see if students are reading or not… This is something I can emphasize in class, it is a very useful tool for me.

How does cloud computing affect us in engineering?
– intensive calculations that can be done “in a cluster,” maybe 24 CPUs working on a problem for you
– processors in your laptops now are more powerful than the computers on the Space Shuttle

Example: let’s design our own airfoils

Students want instant results, so using computers in the cloud / clusters can provide much faster results for students

By using this online system, students can get their grades within an hour of it being posted
– once solutions are posted, students can’t get credit

Server keeps track of where and when students logged into the course
– that can help you figure out if it was a student problem or a server problem in a particular circumstance

My online quiz system lets instructors point and click to choose questions for their course EASILY
– that is the key: 90% of the instructors I’m familiar with won’t online systems like Desire2Learn to do anything except post their syllabus
– we have to make this easier

My perspective: There are 3-4 textbook writers in Engineering with this type of content now available
– publishers have stayed away from Desire2Learn, BlackBoard, etc so they have built their own portals
– ultimately I see this going to more of a WikiPedia model: community uses it, contributes to it

What about collaboration?
– I have added an electronic whiteboard function that I can use with a Tablet PC
– I can record an entire whiteboard session with the click of a mouse

Kurt Gramoll sharing his keynote at ODLA 2010

(Photo captured with my iPhone GS, cropped with Crop for Free, and uploaded to Flickr with PixelPipe)

I hate bandwidth hogs: So I wrote this system to run nicely over a dial-up modem
– so we don’t have video in this system
– do videos really help students learn? In Engineering, no.
– Circus training: Yes. You need videos.


I was so excited about the iPad until I learned it didn’t support Flash!
– I use Turban7 to change those instructions into Flash action script
– I don’t have to license anything to anyone: It’s all free

3 years ago Prof from McNeese State in Lousiana asked about using it, that professor just obtained a NSF grant and they are going to institutionalize the use of this learning management system for students in all their community colleges (learning at a distance)

My learning management system could actually be used for non-Engineering courses, but at this point it’s just engineering

It can be a nightmare to design a “self-paced” course for students

Online Statics course delivery comparison
– Goals:
— deliver a high quality statics class to community college students over the Internet
— compare student performance and satisfaction
– same course delivered to 2 groups of community college students covering the same material but using different delivery methods
– no pre-selection of students in either class: students had the option of choosing either option
– both classes held meeting times 3 times a week
– on-campus students had office hours in person while others met virtually
– both had weekly assignments to turn in

overall test score average for online versus on-campus students was 77.0 vs 70.7
– my key message is that online: you are getting an equal or better learning opportunity

Engineering students think it’s a birthright to have partial credit
– many go through the roof at multiple choice
– I remind them that the bridge either stands up or it falls down: there is no partial credit for a bridge that collapses

I ask them if they remember that Mars mission 8 years ago, when it crashed into the planet?
– that was a $200 million spacecraft, the problem was conversion factors that were wrong (someone measuring in feet, someone in another unit)


I wanted to show you more demos and we are almost out of time!

University style: everything is open

We did a lot of online training for Tinker AFB:
– This does save them a lot of time and money, don’t have to bring in people to lecture
– with this model, they can actually have people answer questions and prove if they have learned something or not as a result of their learning experience

CD example: Math 4 Teaching Textbook
– Oklahoma company called “Teaching Textbooks
– all down with Flash and delivered via CD
– that company refuses to put their work on the web
– at least 20-30% of their homeschool market do not want to have ANY Internet access for their students on the computer which their students are using for learning


People learn different ways, we need to provide different ways for students to access content and learn


I think students are going to stop using laptops and going to higher resolution smartphones
– the resolution on many of these devices is phenomenal

Toughest thing I have in this job: something else comes along and keeps me up at night!

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  • Wes,
    One of my biggest shocks of today’s conference was the emphasis on video. Several (many? most?) of the vendors were showing some kind of product that supported video (like Wimba) or was totally based on video (like Polycom).

    I was not surprised by Dr. Gramoll’s perspective that video wasn’t necessary for the skills he is teaching. His system did allow for recordings of lectures, narrations on drawings, … capabilities that I would consider much more important to learning engineering than seeing the instructor. But then, I am an engineer – so maybe I’m not seeing the big picture.

    Are there specific skills (or kinds of skills) for which you would think video would be very important in learning? Or do you believe video would enhance learning in general – regardless of objective? Not trying to argue… just asking for your input.

    I enjoyed your Blended learning lecture.

    Have a great day, Kent

  • Hi Kent-

    I think there are all kinds of ways video can be used to help students with concept development. Certainly the simulations and animations Dr. Gramoll developed on his site are fantastic. When we ask a question like, “Is this necessary,” I think that points to our goals. Could Engineering students in the past learn how to satisfactorily pass tests AND go on to design roads and bridges, using just their textbook, their instructor’s lecture, and their slide rule? Of course they could. Can the introduction of alternate media formats enhance the learning experience, and most importantly (in the context of Engineering) help those students become better Engineers? I suspect the answer is yes, but this is a perfect place to turn to educational research. It would be great to ask some Engineering faculty who are using rich media content in their lessons about their own research / studies on how this has impacted student learning. It would also be valuable to ask Engineering program graduates who were afforded changes to access rich media / video as part of their coursework about the value and impact of those videos.

    One way to make up our own minds about this is to take a look at the video content available NOW on YouTubeEDU in the Engineering category. Currently, the video in this category with the most views is, Invisibility Cloak Findings at Duke University.” Is there any value in having access to content like this in the classroom?

    I would say yes for several reasons. From a visual literacy standpoint, many people learn better when visuals are presented than when they are just hearing something. Bringing in real-world examples and case studies can be very important for learning. Dr. Gramoll talked about how he tries to do this in his lessons. Couldn’t these case studies be illustrated and dramatized even better with video, than they can be with text, static images, and some moving animations? Most likely.

    Thanks for the pushback. I’d be interested to know what others think on this too!

  • Wesley,
    Very good! I was thinking way too narrowly about video. I was thinking basically of video lectures (i.e. talking head) – not the use of ed resources such as the video above. Clearly, this type of video has merit.

    I tend to think simulations (whether a simulation of a simple machine, a business, the solar system, or authentic tasks an employee must complete) have many of the positive aspects of video – with the addition of interactivity. Have you seen simulations used effectively? Any examples?

    Have a great weekend, Kent

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