The Evolution of eLearning Within a Software Engineering Graduate Program

The Evolution of eLearning Within a Software Engineering Graduate Program

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6956-6.ch012
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This chapter presents the journey taken by one of the top online software engineering programs in the nation as experienced by the program chairperson, reflecting upon the evolution of distant education efforts from two-way satellite synchronous course delivery to 100% online course delivery as well as other blended modes of delivery and instruction. This discussion will include the advantages and disadvantages encountered organized within a student-centered, instructor-centered, course-product, and program-centered focus followed by lessons learned. The chapter provides a practical and revealing encapsulation of salient issues surrounding the operation of an online STEM graduate program of interest to readers seeking shared operational experiences from long-term significant elearning efforts.
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Distance Education has been a driving factor within the Software Engineering graduate program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake for over twenty years. This program is offered as either a traditional face-to-face on-campus program or as an online program. The Software Engineering online M.S. program has been twice named 4th in the nation in 2017 and 2018, 7th in 2018, and 6th in 2020 by (BestColleges, 2020). It has evolved from one that delivered lectures into distant classrooms via 2-way satellite, to web-supported classes that held traditional class 50% of the time, to various blends of online and bimodal instruction depending on both the course and student type enrolled. All students admitted to the Software Engineering program are admitted as either 100% online students or as “regular” students. Online students are accommodated by classes that do not require student's physical presence on campus.

Enrollment in the Software Engineering program has historically been divided between local area students who work full time and international students who live on or near campus. Local students enrolled in 100% online classes were invited to attend face-to-face sessions of an enrolled class since the classes were typically offered in multiple modes of instruction. Many students would attend class 4-5 times a semester to participate in discussion sessions, and project demonstrations, or oral presentations. Since these students were designated as 100% online all on-campus activities were optional. However, many students participated in quite a few of the sessions. As the program grew and began to get enrollment from students residing beyond a reasonable driving distance, 100% online became a popular choice. In the last few years, domestic enrollment of local students has increased and bimodal classes have been in increasing demand as well as 100% online.

The focus of elearning within the program has centered around student project development, software processes, and project management. Course development involved use of instructional methods that enabled coverage of areas such as project planning, requirements specification, software design, software implementation in various language, testing techniques as well as exercises and practice within both agile-based (Beck et. al, 2001) and plan-based (Ahimbisibwe et. al., 2017) software process methods. The program curriculum requires predominately core courses covering each of the aforementioned areas of study. Course design revolves around design of assignments, papers, projects, video lectures, current readings, student presentations and writing assignments that require comparison and analysis essays surrounding key topics. Students are expected to develop a project plan, write requirements, construct software designs, and test software using various testing methods and develop projects using different coding languages and software development environments.

Within these efforts course design has been late to awareness, study and application of published pedagogical and androgogical theories and their implications upon course design. This is directly attributed to the fact that faculty have terminal degrees in Computer Science and not Education and are not intimately aware of pedagogical techniques and methods. However, indirectly, by practice and years of experience within the face to face and online classroom, pedagogical and androgogical concepts and theories have been unconsciously applied such as the use of a flipped classroom (Fulton, 2012; Nolan & Washington, 2013) and self-directed learning (Knowles, 1975; Garrison, 1997; Knowles, 1980) or have been instituted through guidance from instructional designers, and available teaching workshops. Many faculty have become increasingly aware of pedagogical and androgogical practices through these efforts and have updated course designs for online classes with methods for increasing faculty-student and student-student collaboration and engagement. Recently, with online delivery becoming even more in demand, the university has established a Center for Teaching and Learning Engagement that is staffed by Education Faculty who are available to help with pedagogical improvements to those who reach out for guidance. In the remainder of this chapter the progression of this Software Engineering program's journey through elearning will be presented along with the advantages and disadvantages experienced and lessons learned.

Key Terms in this Chapter

eLearning: Electronic Learning. Learning that takes place primarily through the use of a web site and course management system in place of an on-campus classroom.

Planned Online Synchronization: A class that has activities between an instructor and a student or group of students that takes place at a specified time and place as with a planned zoom meeting for the online class or group of students within the online class.

Online Course: A course with all class material available for student access by electronic means typically over the internet and typically housed within a course management system that requires login credentials.

Communities of Practice: A group of people who collaborate and work together to teach and learn from each other the art of what the members practice. It is an example of learning by engaging and practicing with a group already experienced in real-life practice.

Blended Classes: Classes that may be a mix of face-to-face/online synchronous/online asynchronous instruction and may vary in percentages assigned to each.

Web-Supported Course: A course that has maintains all course material on a website or within a course management system yet the class discussion and exams are typically held in a physical classroom. Some lectures may be provided online and a few key lectures may be provided in class. The web thus supports the course but does not replace all of the class interaction activity.

Bimodal: A course that operates under two modes of instruction: instruction that takes place online in an eLearning environment and instruction that takes place face to face. Percentages of total class time are typically assigned to each model, such as 50% online/50% face-to-face would be one example of a bimodal class. Other bimodal percentage mixes of online to face-to-face can occur.

Distance Education: Education is delivered by offering classes to students that are physically distant from the host institution.

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