April 23, 2014

Can you teach ‘real’ engineering at a distance?

Listen with webReader

This blog is prompted by an e-mail from Rich Zuc, who wanted to know why there were no undergraduate degrees in engineering offered at a distance. With his permission, his letter is reproduced below, with my answers.

Rich wrote:

I am a resident of Hamilton Ontario and I am interested in online and distance learning (DL)  as I am seeking to pursue an undergraduate program in engineering/science.

I left university in my early 20s, in the mid 1990s, due to family commitments and never had the opportunity to complete an undergraduate engineering degree. Back then I started looking for an engineering/science degree offered via distance learning by a Canadian university; I did carry out extensive internet searches but to no avail. I have kept on searching ever since. Now, with 2010 just around the corner the online/DL situation in Canada, with respect to providing science and engineering degrees, has not changed at all!! There are very very few traditional brick and mortar Canadian universities that offer online/DL 4 year honours undergraduate degrees in the Arts and Social Sciences and practically no traditional brick and mortar institution offers an online/DL honours degree in engineering/science!!!

Do you expect that opportunities in engineering and science, via online/DL programs offered by traditional brick and mortar Canadian schools, are likely to remain as they are…that is non-existent!! Or based on your experience do you foresee some change in the not too distant future? Do you feel that this has to do mainly with: resistance by universities’ committees, boards, governing bodies or faculty members?

I replied:

You raise an important issue here. As far as I know (and I’m not an engineer) you are correct – there are no undergraduate engineering degrees that are offered entirely online or at a distance in Canada, and very few at undergraduate level in the USA. Some organisations, such as Stanford University, offer graduate engineering programs online. You can do several certificate programs in ‘hard’ engineering from the British Columbia Institute of Technology by distance. I’m not sure whether you can transfer these courses into a regular undergraduate degree, thus shortening the time on campus, but generally you can in British Columbia. (Whether Ontario institutions will accept them is much more problematic). Have a look at the BCIT Civil Engineering site which has good questions and answers on the distance programs they offer. There are computer science programs available online from a limited number of Canadian institutions, but I know of no whole undergraduate programs in the ‘hard’ engineering areas, civil, mechanical or electrical.

This is not because it would be impossible to design a high quality engineering distance education program, using a combination of online teaching, simulations and limited laboratory time at an accredited local institution. There are successful design models for this in other professions, such as medicine.

There are several reasons for why there are no undergraduate engineering programs offered by distance delivery. The main obstacle is the professional accreditation agencies, who require students to have a very high level of laboratory classroom time in a program before accepting a degree for professional accreditation. There is a belief that engineering is very much a hands-on profession and needs personal supervision within a laboratory context.

A second obstacle is the very high cost of designing laboratory simulations in engineering that might replace physical labs for online students. Some progress is being made in this area, but the whole area lacks sustainable business models – it’s a chicken and egg situation: lack of recognition for online learning limits large scale applications.

Interestingly, there is growing evidence that engineering can be taught successfully online in apprenticeship programs – or at least mainly online. Vancouver Community College runs a very successful program for apprentices in car body work repairs (E-pprentice), reducing a 13 week semester course to three weeks on campus at the end of the course, with the rest being done online. BCCampus is now managing a program funded by BC’s Industrial Training Agency for flexible delivery of trades training across the province that combines online learning with local supervision of hands-on skills development.

However, I cannot see the universities moving in this direction unless there is a real crisis in getting engineering students. There are no incentives for them to offer alternative delivery. The focus of most engineering professors is on research and they would prefer to have fewer rather than more students, as teaching interferes with research. There are in North America still plenty of well qualified applicants for undergraduate campus-based engineering programs.

Having said this, engineering does compare badly to another professional area, medicine. The medics have been much more innovative in using distance education. For instance in BC, a partnership between the main hospitals, UBC, UNBC, and University of Victoria has resulted in a distributed education model for the M.D. program in the province, so people don’t have to move to Vancouver where the only medical school is located. What drove this was the need to retain doctors in the regions, rather than have them all move to Vancouver. Note again though that this is a graduate, distributed learning program, and is not fully online.

Now over to you, readers. Can you answer the following questions:

1. Name one North American university that offers an entire undergraduate civil, mechanical or electrical engineering by distance that is accepted for accreditation by a professional engineering organization.

2. Do you agree that it would be possible to design and deliver a high quality undergraduate engineering degree for entirely distance delivery (allowing for perhaps local hands-on supervision by employers or summer school at a regular university)?

2. If so, why are there no or so few undergraduate programs at a distance in engineering?

It would be really good to hear from some engineering faculty on this topic.

Comments

  1. tony2 says:

    Wendy Kilfoil, of the University of Pretoria, has kindly drawn my attention to the University of South Africa, whose College of Science and Engineering offers B.Tech courses wholly at a distance.

  2. John Steede says:

    Tony2 is right. However, the University of South Africa is not accredited by any recognized engineering organizations in the US or Canada…or by the US Department of Education for that matter.

  3. Chang Panan says:

    University of North Dakota offers several undergraduate engineering degrees by distance. The faculty is accredited. Accreditation for the distance ed degree is under review. Tuition is the same as for ND residence. International students are accepted.

  4. essaysmith says:

    Memorial University in Newfoundland offers an entirely online Bachelor of Technology degree. Not equal to an engineering degree, I know, I have been looking for this myself.

    • Ian F says:

      The BTech program is equal to an engineering degree. They are both undergraduate degrees. It will not satisfy the academic requirements for the PEng designation, however. Engineers Canada does have a syllabus which the provincial associations follow for examinations to fulfill the academic requirements for the PEng designation. These examinations will satisfy the academic requirements in lieu of an engineering degree. Contact your provincial licensing board for details.

  5. robgeorge says:

    I’m in the same boat as Rich Zuc. I left university in my early 20′s as well and have been wanting to go back to finish my engineering degree. However, I need to maintain full time employment as well. I am currently checking out Waterloo’s online program (http://www.ece.uwaterloo.ca/Undergrad/Academics/Online/). Looks promising.

  6. Charles McMillion says:

    I have a BS in Electrical Engineering and did a Master’s in Informatics (not engineering) on-line. Short answer – I don’t think you could possibly do a quality on-line program in engineering. Engineering requires strong fundamental work in physics and chemistry, as well as hands-on engineering labs. I also don’t think on-line programs can be as rigorous as traditional programs.

  7. Doug says:

    This has repercussions in K-12 education, too. Virtual high schools, which are more and more popular now, don’t really offer any pre-engineering courses. So those students are even less prepared for or exposed to engineering concepts and career opportunities.

  8. Trevor Dube says:

    I also face a similar dilemma to Rich and Rob. I hold a National Diploma in Mineral Dressing & Metallurgy and have been practising in the field for 20 years. No doubt obtaining a B-degree would open up a lot of career opportunities for me. The Engineering Council UK examinations were one way of obtaining a qualification equivalent to a B-degree but the administrator, City & Guilds UK, will be supervising the last examination in 2011. India has a similar set up through the Institution of Engineers, but you need to travel there for their examination, or go to one of their overseas centres. They did not sound keen on taking up my offer to travel though.

  9. My short answer, too, is no, you can’t teach “real” engineering at a distance. I am a professional engineer, a faculty member at BCIT, and coordinator of the Civil Engineering Technology Distance Education program formerly offered by BCIT.

    I say “formerly” because the decision to retire the program was just made in September 2010. The primary reason behind the decision is that, in the 25 or so years various credentials have been available, very few students have actually completed any of them. There have been a total of 64 graduates since the program was established in the mid 1980s, and more than half of them were in 1984 and 1985, having entered the distance program with a large number of credits obtained through a previous, non-distance program. The very small number of students means a very small budget to maintain and update courses.

    Since 1985, only 4 students completed a Certificate of Technology, a credential that is approximately equivalent to one year of full-time study. “Full-time” in most engineering technology programs at BCIT means around 30 hours of class time per week, including labs and mandatory tutorials, through a 35-week academic year. Homework and project time is additional. A Diploma of Technology in Civil Engineering Technology takes two years full time; a B.Eng. in Civil Engineering takes four.

    Many prospective students that have contacted me say they cannot attend full-time because they are working full-time and cannot quit, but I don’t think they realize just how much time is required to complete a Diploma of Technology or engineering degree. To do either while maintaining full-time employment would take a very long time.

    In addition to the accreditation requirements noted in your reply, another reason that engineering distance education is unlikely to be successful is that most engineering programs are designed as complete programs–the courses are interdependent, not items to be chosen off a menu or ticked off one by one.

    I also need to add that there is a lot more to engineering program accreditation than just hands-on labs. Every facet of the curriculum is examined and must meet or exceed very specific benchmarks.

    The purpose of accreditation is to protect the public. It is my understanding that graduates of unaccredited engineering or technology programs can still obtain professional licensing in Canada if they can prove that they have equivalent education and knowledge by writing exams set by their professional regulatory body.

  10. Linda Harasim says:

    Hi everyone:

    Just a brief comment that I am surprised to read the comments here that suggest that engineering needs real hand-on labs. I am not in Engineering science, but I do know that SFU did have some entirely online engineering courses. And the engineering profs who supported this initiated argued that all the labs in SFU engineering courses were already online, computer-based simulations. That hands-on labs were rare if still in existence.

    Sounds like there is still alot of debate on this topic.

    I’d appreciate your views on a related issue: do engineering courses tend to use group oriented pedagogies like team projects? group discussion?

    Thanks,
    Linda

  11. Linda Harasim says:

    Hi again….this topic is not an area of specialization but I seem to be running into it tonight.

    FYI: Stanford University has launched SEE:

    Welcome to Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE)

    For the first time in its history, Stanford is offering some of its most popular engineering classes free of charge to students and educators around the world. Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) expands the Stanford experience to students and educators online. A computer and an Internet connection are all you need. View lecture videos, access reading lists and other course handouts, take quizzes and tests, and communicate with other SEE students, all at your convenience.

    SEE programming includes one of Stanford’s most popular sequences: the three-course Introduction to Computer Science taken by the majority of Stanford’s undergraduates and seven more advanced courses in artificial intelligence and electrical engineering.
    Stanford Engineering Everywhere offers:

    * Anytime and anywhere access to complete lecture videos via streaming or downloaded media.
    * Full course materials including syllabi, handouts, homework, and exams.
    * Online social networking with fellow SEE students.
    * Support for PCs, Macs and mobile computing devices.

    Stanford encourages fellow educators to use Stanford Engineering course materials in their own classrooms. A Creative Commons license allows for free and open use, reuse, adaptation and redistribution of Stanford Engineering Everywhere material.

  12. I took a look at the Stanford Engineering Everywhere site, and like the programs offered at SFU, only a few courses are available online, not an entire program. Also, the SSE courses are all in the electrical and computer engineering fields whereas the largest engineering disciplines are civil and mechanical. I just can’t visualize how a computer simulation could replace hands-on labs in soil mechanics, surveying, etc.

    And yes, engineering courses do use group projects. This is an accreditation requirement since engineering is really a “team sport”.

    Jacquie

  13. John Holmes says:

    Hello, everyone! I’m very pleased to have stumbled upon this discussion! I’m almost in the same situation as Mr. Zuc. Fortunately, I was able to complete an AS in General Studies while serving in the military and before children. The coursework was geared for pre-engineering and computer science and contained Calculus, Differential Equations and Calculus based Chemistry and Physics.

    After reading some of the replies, I agree that required engineering courses with labs, like chemistry and physics, may require access to costly equipment and materials. Plus, some experiments can be potentially dangerous to replicate in a home. However, as a current “frustrated” EE student at the University of Alabama Huntsville, I truly believe most of the EE and CE coursework can easily be delivered online. Right now, the majority of course offerings at UAH occur during the typical 8-5 workday! Each class I attend evaporates ~2 hours of my workday (class & commute time). Acquiring my 40 hours every week at work and spending quality time with my family is a significant challenge. This doesn’t even include time for homework and studying!

    After speaking with the University of North Dakota this week, I’ve officially decided to give them a chance. They are ABET accredited, less expensive than UAH and will greatly reduce the stress caused by the 8-hours of disruption 2 courses inflict on my work week.

    Please understand, I think the engineering programs at UAH are highly respectable. They should seriously consider online offerings of their engineering courses and subsequent ABET accreditation of the online program. The board at UAH is more concerned with getting bodies on the campus via mandatory residency (build a dorm and they will come) and implementing non-sense programs like the required meal-plan for full-time students (prove you’re married or pay). They have a tradition as a commuter college and are trying to change that image. They are doing an exceptional job of alienating the customer base that helped grow the institution.

    Ultimately, undergraduate engineering degrees are currently held in the stranglehold of stodgy institutions, like UAH, that cling to old ideals and refuse to innovate. I truly hope time changes things.

    Best of luck to everyone!

    Sincerely,

    John

    • Carlos says:

      Hello John,

      Your situation is very much the situation I have. I’m really interest if you ever pursued the online engineering program at North Dakota University. I’m considering the program and what better to heard from someone already in the program.

      Thanks

      • Paul says:

        Carlos,

        Post here have an enormous date range, but in the event you come back to read I’d just like to say that I am enjoying my time in UND’s DEDP (distance) Mechanical Engineering program.

        I graduated from UND in 2001 with a degree in chemistry so I have the advantage of having already completed all of my non-engineering lab science as well as math up through differential equations.

        In 2012 I took the MITx 6.002x beta that went on to become EDx.org and really enjoyed the challenge. I passed the class and decided at that moment that I could handle engineering classes in an online environment. Int the fall of 2012 I started slowly at UND by taking Statics. No problem. I took Dynamics the spring of 2013 and although it was a large workload I was able to get through it. Last fall (2013) it ramped things up and took Mechanics of Materials and Intro to ME (in reality this class is Creo 2.0 that teaches 3D modeling) and this semester (spring 2014) I am taking Thermodyanmics and ENGR200 (C programming).

        It is a ton of work. Taking two classes tends to take me around 15-20 hours per week that is normally done on week nights after 10PM or on the weekend while my 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter take their nap. It is however very well organize and extremely rewarding. I am not two years into a six year journey and I have no regrets.

        Fluid Mechanics this summer!

      • Paul says:

        Against my better judgement I’m going to post my email here in case anyone has a question they would like to ask about the program.

        dpnelson1978@gmail.com

        Please don’t spam me!

  14. Glen says:

    I found this discussion to be very interesting and to reinforce what I surmised to be the case with regard to the current state of engineering education. I have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree and am a licensed/registered professional engineer in 4 jurisdictions in the U.S.A. with over 30 years of engineering and related experience. Fortunately I already had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in disciplines other than engineering before I attended Georgia Tech (officially a highly reputable and distinguished engineering school). I word it this way (“officially”) as I do not believe this university or most any other university properly prepares students to practice engineering. But not for the required four years of experience working under a licensed professional engineer to qualify to take the professional engineer ‘s (Principals and Practices of Engineering) exam, most of these graduates would not be qualified to actually practice engineering in a manner that protects the public health and safety. The most recent attempts to include significant project team-related courses in the final year are a step forward but are still quite inadequate. This process should begin in the first year, not the last. These comments are not meant to offend any engineering graduates or practicing engineers, nor are they meant to offend professors of engineering. Pursuing and completing an engineering degree is very difficult and anyone that does so should be commended. Also, anyone teaching engineering has worked hard to attain that status. That does not mean it is a good system as it presently exists. There has been and continues to be considerable debate on the part of students, professors, ABET, NCEES, state engineering registration boards, etc. as to what the educational and experience requirements should be for licensing and practicing as a professional engineer. It certainly is not unanamous as to what these requirements should be. The latest tacks on a Master’s Degree but there is still disagreement on what this degree and course work or thesis should consist of !? Many of my co-workers over the years have complained of what they felt to be very inadequate engineering college preparation for the practice of engineering, Some expressed outright bitterness with regard to this.

    The arrogance of the engineering profession came through loud and clear with one of the writers in this column. That arrogance was basically “no way can undergraduate engineering education ever be taught by distance learning”. It reminded me of what two of my Georgia Tech professors said when I was in school there – “I don’t believe women should be in engineering” – to which the lone two women in the class promptly responded by setting the class scale and leaving me with a damn “C” in the course.

    I appluad the University of North Dakota in their development and offering of ABET accredited undergraduate degrees in engineering and remind them of the huge responsibility they have accepted by doing so. They must do whatever it takes to make these programs successful. The comment regarding the inability to conduct labs via distance learning is typical of the arguments against distance learning engineering education. Engineering is supposed to be creative so why don’t the critics (many profound and distinguished engineering hot shots) get off their penguin butts and design state-of-the-art distance learning laboratory procedures worthy of medals and awards. Perhaps the North Dakota programs already have or perhaps they require a week or two of attendance on campus to get them out of the way. I can assure you the hands-on knowledge I gained in the labs I took at Georgia Tech in physics, engineering, etc. could be gained in a number of ways and did little to really enhance my engineering knowledge. In fact I have found that personal desire to succeed, proactive independent study and investigation far outweigh typically boring Ph.D. faculty lectures or labs. It certainly has worked well in the British Isles educational system and elsewhere for a long long time.

    I remember many of my Georgia Tech classmates referring to upcoming graduations as “getting out”. I also remember one drop-out student writing on her pink drop-out slip as the reason for doing so to be “I just thought I wanted to be an engineer”. An earlier writer alluded to the reason things are the way they are – simple economics and supply and demand. The engineering schools can get all the students they want the way things are set up right now. Engineering graduates gain top salaries upon graduation and the incentive to change is minimal for the colleges or professors as they usually have more student prospects than they really want – especially if their focus is research which is often the case. This current system, however, routinely excludes some of the potentially best and brightest students (in terms of making a future contribution to the profession rather than making high grades in physics and calculus coursework), One or the best engineers I ever worked with had no college course work whatsoever, had worked his way up from draftsman to engineer, had studied for independently and passed the EIT and PE exams and had distinguished himself in project and design work. How many students in a typical engineering program do you think could accomplish this feat?

    The fact of the matter is, engineering (especially with respect to engineering education) is still trying to figure itself out. As it is unlikely any of the powers that be will do anything radical enough to affect my professional engineering licensure status, I simply am watching the progress, or lack thereof, being made. Having said all that, I am proud to be an engineer, generally enjoy the profession, and feel I am making an important contribution to society on a regular basis. I hope these candid comments will be useful in some way, especially to those struggling to enter the engineering profession.

    • Sam says:

      Totally agree with you on everything you say. Those who claim that engineering cannot be taught online live in the Dark Ages…simple story….they belong to the same group of people who thought that Christopher Columbus would have never discovered anything across the ocean….whereas other believed in him!! The rest, as they say, is history!!

  15. Wesley says:

    I find it interesting reading the comment. You got one side saying it is impossible to teach engineering properly from a distance because of required hands on experiments and such. Then you have the other side saying that engineering is far behind the times in education. I want to find a balance between them but I can’t.
    In my view, old school educators do like to change. They like their jobs, their salary and their comfortable chair. So there in no incentive to be innovative. Us young pups don’t know what we are talking about. At least that’s how it comes across.
    When I think of the term engineering by itself. It spells innovation, creativity, design. It seems to me that engineering should be setting the standard in creativity not in “status quo”. But, if you got educators who still think that one should still be learning with a pick-axe and a shovel (and I agree there are times for that as well) then where is the creativity and innovation?
    You guys are engineers for pete’s sake. “Innovation R Us”.

  16. ptong says:

    I’m Canadian and live in rural Alberta. my research has led me to believe that the university of north dakota may be my ticket into being a licensed engineer in Alberta Canada. I’m working full-time and find it difficult to quit my career in the trades to attend a university in another city. UND offers the only ABET accredited mechanical. Engineer degree that’s distance focused that I could find in the states. The program seems to meet Canadian requirements but I still need to make some calls to be sure. If your Canadian, make sure you know your provinces’ rules

    • jms says:

      Did you ever find anything out about the UND course? I’m in the exact same boat as you – working in alberta….Thanks!

      • Tony Bates says:

        Hi
        UND is certainly a very respectable public university (which I have visited) but I’m not an engineer, so it’s difficult for me to give a thumbs up or down for this program.

        So I’m going to throw this back to some of the earlier contributors who were exploring the University of North Dakota online engineering degree. What did you find? Anyone students or faculty from the UND engineering department like to comment?

        Regards

    • GP says:

      Hey jms, so I’m curious how the UND is working out for you? Have you checked with APEGGA to make sure that they accept a distance degree? Take a look at my post at the bottom of the entire forum.

      GP

  17. Aspiring Technologist says:

    If anyone is still reading this post, I found an engineering program that is delivered completely online from Australia and is accredited (via the Washington Accord) in Canada. Scroll all the way to the bottom. http://www.usq.edu.au/handbook/2012/eng/beng.html

  18. Emma tameside says:

    I agree with Jacquie Gaudet earlier in this comment thread. I do think that a lot subjects lend themselves well to distance learning, especially those that do not require lab work. I’ve taken many distance learning courses myself actually, and I’ve been very very happy with them, feeling like I’ve come away learning so much – but those were marketing and finance subjects. I can’t see how an engineering subject would translate 100% to online or distance.

    Of course, I think you could manage a good amount of the syllabus via distance learning, just like with many other online degrees, but there is a need for peer discussion and materials testing in engineering (depending on your field) that you just can’t replicate outside of structured learning environments and engineering labs. You can run simulations of course, but how can the tutor ensure the simulations are run in the proper manner?

    In summary, I think it depends very much on the course syllabus. A more paper-based approach can translate very well to distance learning. A more hands-on approach surely requires… well, some hands on.

  19. changa says:

    hi all,
    this is one of the rare topics ever discussed- am in the same situation for the last 4years, I cannot get a chance to get an engineering degree thru an on line / distance learning, What is the problem with engineers? that Finance , accountants, administrators,……….. etc are able to do their courses successfully

  20. Radhi says:

    We develop laboratory work remotely École de technologie supérieure in Montreal. See the website: elab.etsmtl.ca
    I think in some time, it will be possible to offer engineering courses at a distance

  21. Tom says:

    A lot of engineers in Australia earn full engineering degrees by distance education. Most are tradesmen who want to move up to the next level. In fact this was how I earned my engineering degree. I started as a tradesman, moved into the design office, and then spent the next 8 years doing a BEng by distance education. No theory or practice was neglected. I actually took all of my electives from the maths department (which was also offered by distance). I challenge anyone who believes that they are a better engineer for having spend four years on-campus.

    • S Augustus says:

      Has anyone taken electrical courses
      with EIT -IDC Technologies

    • Daniel says:

      I fully agree with your last sentence Tom,those who had the opportunity to spend four years full time at varsity are no better than any engineering distance learners,what matters is the content of the program.Engineering can be done via distance learning.

  22. RickyBobby says:

    Burlington, Ontario
    Civil Engineering Technician diploma
    Electiomic Engineering Technician diploma
    Member of OACETT
    12yrs working experience

    Have been looking for 9 months and can’t find anyway to upgrade my education. This is fantastic information and I really hope the engineering educational world gets up to speed. People such as myself that want to make a real difference in the world and push the boundaries of engineering are being held back because we are not in a position to NOT work and educate ourselves.

    • RickyBobby,

      we have quite a few engineering programmes online with some attendance requirements. We are planning an honours degree in Civil Engineering at some point so keep in touch. Actually we are looking at partnering with an Ontario College.

      Brian Mulligan
      Institute of Technology Sligo, Ireland

      • Paul "RickyBobby" Belaskie says:

        Hi Brian,

        Thanks for the feed back. If there is anything I can do on my end please let me know. I have no issues being the ginny pig of an experiment that could benefit the masses.

        cheers,

      • Chris says:

        Hi,

        This is a very informative discussion. I also completed 2.5yrs of Civil Engineering at an accredited University in South Africa. In south africa we have UNISA which offers open distance learning Diploma’s and BTech degrees in Engineering. However you have to sit for exams…I’m not sure if they cater for international students.

        Having studied full time at a more reputable institution, I must say that the delivery of the program is poor, though it is accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa. I would like to hear more from Brian Mulligan about what they are planning. I see no reason why Electrical and Mechanical engineers can have online degrees and yet Civil Engineering lags behind. Students can organise to do labs with approved mentors and industry connections wherever they are in the world. Whether it is surveying or geotech.

        I long to be able to have a BEng or any Bachelors as career progress can be limited without one, despite having some experience,

        Regards

  23. DelVonte Deary says:

    This has been a very informative discussion. Although I am glad I am not the only one who has found themselves in this position, I wish that this was a non-issue. It seems the lack of Online and Distance Education in engineering programs has more to do with ego and failure to innovate, than anything else. Although it can be difficult for some classes to be taught online, the University of North Dakota has shown that it can be done in a variety of Engineering disciplines.

    I wonder when it will start to become mainstream. One can only hope that some of the bigger schools like Stanford and MIT will start to offer Online degrees for Undergraduates in Engineering, especially in disciplines such as Electrical and Computer Engineering, where most of the upper level work is done in computer labs utilizing Spice, MatLab, Xilinx ISE Design Suite, and others.

  24. Tony Bates says:

    Just to add to this discussion:

    The University of Washington (a top US public university based in Seattle, where the Boeing Aircraft company is located) offers several online masters in engineering including:

    • Master of Aerospace Engineering in Composite Material Structures
    • Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics
    • Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering
    • Master of Science in Civil & Environmental Engineering (Construction Engineering)
    • Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering

    For more information, go to: http://www.pce.uw.edu/online-graduate-degrees-uw.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=November%202012%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=PCE%20News&utm_content=November+2012+Newsletter

    I’d appreciate it if engineers can explain why it’s OK to offer graduate degrees in engineering online, but not undergraduate degrees.

  25. Wesley Sherwood says:

    I completed my BS in EET online (Excelsior College), but took most of my courses at local colleges. Now I am considering a BS in EE online since I find it difficult to transistion to Engineering without an EE degree in the US. My coworker is doing his through UND and has good reviews but he is at the very beginning. I am also watching Stonybrook University which is not yet accredited which offers the final two years of courses thus not requiring labs. I have courses to cover the first two years but I am waiting for their accredition in 2014.

  26. Steve says:

    For anyone inquiring about the University of North Dakota here is the email I received when I asked if their ABET accredited Engineering courses can in fact be completed 100% online.

    Dear Steve,

    Thank you for contacting us.

    On-campus laboratories are required. The number of visits to the UND campus for laboratories will vary based on the degree program and transfer credits. Chemical Engineering and Civil Engineering require about 5 visits to campus. Electrical Engineering, Mechanical and Petroleum Engineering require about 4 visits to campus. 1 credit is 5 days, 2 and 3 credits are up to 14 days. These labs are generally done in the month of June.

    There are only limited on-campus requirements. UND has worked hard to reduce the amount of visits to the UND campus for laboratory work. If a student is interested in taking a laboratory locally at a regionally accredited college/university, they would be required to work with the Academic Department in determining if the laboratory offered at the local college/university is the same laboratory that UND offers.

    Please feel free to contact us live online at http://und.edu or contact us at 1-800-CALL-UND if you have any additional questions.

    Please use this link to rate the response you received in this email.

    Sincerely,

    XXXXXXXXXX (I intentionally removed the senders name)

  27. Paul "RickyBobby" Belaskie says:

    Wow there is way more people out there than I thought that are looking for quality extended engineering education. I really do hope that some Canadian institutions see what an opportunity they have in front of them.

  28. Syed says:

    Hello All,
    I have checked NDU ( North Dakota) Website. This university really worth and recognized worldwide, Offering on-line accredited engineering course. Already registered with them. Looking for other people to weekly combined study if possible.

    • JjJ says:

      Syed.. I’m looking at it but not signed up.. are you starting in January? I’m still working through whether they will accept it as an approved method of education for engineering in Canada. Currently they tell me their stance is no, but APEGS [Association of Professional Engineers & Geoscientists of Saskatchewan] are looking to approve it. I’m literally next door in Saskatchewan so it’s a fairly good fit for me [due to the on-site Lab's etc].

      We’ll see how it works out I guess.

      • Riz says:

        Ouch! I am in Ontario, Canada and I though since this program is ABET accredited, it must be recognized by CEAB because of Washington Accord but I guess CEAB makes and tweet rules according to there own will.

        It’s good to see that folks in US, Australia and UK have options to continue there engineering education online but in Canada we have no option but to accept that engineering degree is not in our fate unless we quit everything in our lives and go to traditional schooling.

        It sucks that even the technologist (3 year diploma holders) don’t have any pre-define path to work towards P. Eng.

    • dhaval says:

      Hi Syed,

      how are you? i am also interested to study in north dhakota distance learning, could you please tell me how much total fees for all program and you can call me 416-837-8764, i live in toronto.

      • Ben says:

        Hello Haval,

        I trust all is well. I am also in Toronto. I am currently in the construction trade field and I want to pursue the UND engineering degree. Keep in touch if you want to join in a group studies

        Ben
        647.338.7742

  29. People have to understand that it isn’t easy to be a good engineer when having distance learning because engineering require too many practice and that’s what make people mastering what they’re studying!
    I’d be gratefull to know an university offering distance learning in engineering and making students mastering without lab or practice…

  30. Nelu says:

    There are a lot of pros and cons for both inclusion and exclusion of the online engineering degrees. The bare truth is that most profs are against it simply because this requires a radical change of the way they deliver their classes. However, the official reason will always be more or less related to the need for one-to-one hands-on labs and the like.

    That being said, the Canadian government is really pushing for this all-inclusive online education (fancy called e-learning) because they look at ways to save few (hundreds of thousands) bucks and lower the deficit (Ontario, beware!).

    Because of this, I am sure that the online engineering classes will soon appear in Canada. Not sure about their initial CEAB accreditation though, but where there is a will, there is always a way!

    All those interested, please keep this in mind and rest assured: I really know what I am talking about.

  31. Randy says:

    I too don’t see why you couldn’t do EE online. I remember in the mid 90′s the U of Minnesota was offering Distance learning program in EE( they had videotapes….. remember those?…of the lectures that you had to watch and then you only visited the campus a couple times) but they discontinued it. I also thought going to the campus every day was a waste of time and gas!! When i was pursuing my EE in Mankato State we had two guys living 200 miles away sitting in on the lectures via satellite…cmon! that was the mid nineties. We have the internet and Skype now. A student could easily sit in on lectures/watch lectures using Youtube or something similar and doing the circuit lab online. I dropped out my junior year, but I remember we were always being told to use PSPICE!!…. wasting time driving to campus just to learn how to use a computer program for everything,a student could do this and submit his homework online.

  32. Roy Emmerich says:

    Here’s a bunch of free electrical engineering courses from MIT:

    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/

  33. Rich M. says:

    From Ontario, working full time with family and college diploma in Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Quality Assurance Certificate.

    Have a close look at the P.Eng requirements before diving into a “degree”. If you work in the field of your interest already and want to make the next step, just do it. You just need a P. Eng mentor (who isn’t even required to be on-site full time with you). Or talk to your employer and see if they have any suggestions for your education.

    What is your goal?

    Is it hanging a frame in your office or putting some credentials beside your e-mail signature? I’ve worked with many of these people and half they time they don’t know what the _____ they are talking about. To know what you are talking about takes experience not provided by any educational organization.

    A degree is a broad range of study. If you absolutely need one to reach your goal, there appears to be some good advice above.

    And yes, I am on here because I am interested in furthering my education in the comfort of my home. Definitely having second thoughts about pursuing a full degree though. Just not in the cards in my situation.

    • NHA says:

      This has been an interesting discussions. Few years back online / distance engineering program was difficult to find, but now there are a number universities in USA who have undergraduate as well as graduate programs in engineering. Even universities like Duke, UofWisconsin, etc have distance learning Masters program in engineering.

      Canada, unfortunately, is behind in this, perhaps due to its rigidity, but on the other hand UofWaterloo has a very good MEng program in Electrical Power System.

      Even in UK and countries like Sweeden, some top ranked universities have Master program in engineering, including renewable energy. I have myself done MSc in Electrical Power from UofBath in UK.

      One participant has asked whether a distance learning engineering program can produce a good engineer? Well, I would also ask whether a traditional university with 4 year accredited programs produces a competent engineer to work in the fields or project from Day 1 after his/er graduation? In all cases, exposure to industry is required, and it will depend on individual to individual, and again depending on their apptitude and interest.

      For those who are interested in distance learning program in engineering, search the web!

  34. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on lynchburg college.

    Regards

  35. John Karman says:

    I also am very interested in obtaining a engineering degree online. I understand the need for hands on-labs under somebody’s direct supervision, there is definitely a benefit to be able to chat with somebody across the table, rather than via emails. However, I fail to understand why it would not be possible to design the course with most theoretical courses available online with for instance 4 to 6 weeks in the actual university settings. each year. Particularly in the current global environment this would actually be a benefit, because engineering is often no longer delivered by teams that have all their participants located in the same city, let alone the same office or workplace location.
    I have worked in the engineering consulting field and am currently working form Ontario with a team in Alberta and a team in Dubai on some pretty intricate health care buildings. I travel to each of the locations about once every two months and we seem to deliver the projects quite successfully by using modern technology such as email, teleconferencing and Lync calls. That is the reality of the work environment now a days.
    I am going to check out the UND. I want to do long distance, not because I think it will be easier, but because it will allow me to set my own pace, and work around my work schedule. I have no illusions that it will be easy, just better able to fit it into my schedule.

  36. Bradley says:

    I really like the idea of online/distance learning in engineering. I tried with poor outcomes, on a couple of occasions, to locate a degree program for electrical engineering. Thanks for the suggestions so far. Here are my few thoughts on the matter.

    Why don’t the local established universities set up evening and or weekend, (strictly) laboratory sessions to meet the criteria for the hands-on experience and couple these with well developed online course delivery. With the kinds of course delivery technologies available today it almost seems silly that people still waste enormous amounts of time and money commuting to and from lecture halls.

    As for having the lab equipment, well, you could use the money you would otherwise spend to cover transportation, lodging etc. and I think much of what you need could be obtained at reasonable cost especially if you were buying it under some sort of group purchase. The specialized $20k oscilloscope or RF signal generator could something you access during the in-house lab sessions. How about industry opening up a little and making an effort to provide in-house training resources (hardware and software) available.

    I fear it will happen only with true leadership or the need for engineer’s exceeds the capacity of the traditional model.

  37. Jim says:

    Hello all.

    Regarding the Distance Engineering Degree Program at University of North Dakota, I am currently in the program (civil engineering) and have been for approximately 3 years. I previously had a Bachelor’s Degree in management. They reviewed my transcript and accepted what they could. After this I began my studies.

    I give this program exceptional praise. I work full-time and this is the only way I could have hoped to attain the degree I actually wanted. You follow directly along with the in-class students. You do the same homework and take the same exams. All exams are proctored to ensure test integrity. The only actual difference is that you do not have to be in a class room at 9 a.m. (example time) in the morning. You may watch the recorded lecture after you get home from work that day.

    On campus laboratory sessions are required. They are done in the summertime. I am actually attending a civil engineering lab in less than 2 weeks.

    I still have one year left in the program. What I have learned so far had been truly impressive. I would recommend this program to anyone interested in obtaining a degree in civil engineering. And from what I understand, the chemical and mechanical degree programs are just as good. The nature of the distance program does require a somewhat more independent drive to stay on track. But I believe most all people interested in an engineering degree already possess this.

    Good luck to anyone considering this, and I highly recommend it.

    • Tony Bates says:

      Many thanks for this, Jim – there’s nothing like a testimonial from an actual student.

    • Sue says:

      Hello Jim,
      I am starting the Civil Engineering program with UND this year. But I still have many questions and unclear about the labs and exams. I am from Alberta and would really like to get more details about the program.

      Thanks
      Sue

  38. BillyO says:

    Excellent conversation. Thank you.

    I am an electrician working in Alberta, and I get nothing but frustrated when dealing with most Electrical Engineers! I quite often find myself telling them how to do their job, and explaining “field work” to them. I also am very interested in getting an engineering degree through correspondence, and I don’t really understand why it would be so difficult to do so!! It is not practical for a middle-aged family man to drop everything and go to school for 4 years. Even taking time away from my family in the summer to travel to a campus to do “labs” is completely out of the question.

    I personally don’t believe that engineering can’t be taught completely online, and I feel this “old school” thinking by these “associations” and “boy’s clubs” needs to change.

    Sorry for offending any of you P’eng’s out there, but a rose is a rose…

  39. Tony Bates says:

    Chesley Chan

    I was particularly interested in your question of 11/5/12 about online graduate degree programs versus on-campus undergraduate programs using the University of Washington as an example. Here’s what I discovered in probing deeper:

    To help answer your question about online graduate engineering degrees versus undergraduate degrees, I drew some “core samples” (a soil mechanics term) from two specific masters degree programs from the University of Washington:
    1) MS in Aeronautics and Astronautics, and
    2) MS in Civil & Environmental Engineering/Construction Management
    I chose these two areas since I am a little familiar with both with an SM in Aero/Astro from MIT and a BS in Civil Engineering from Tufts. I also chose the Construction Management track since it conjures up images of heavy equipment.

    What I discovered through the core samples is that both the MS degrees in Aero/Astro and Civil are offered on-campus or online for different reasons.
    1. For the Aero/Astro degree, there are two ways to earn the degree: a) a thesis-based track that is only offered on-campus, or b) a non-thesis track that is offered online and consists of all coursework. For my Masters thesis, I spent endless hours in the lab making tubes out of composite materials, instrumenting them, and then breaking them to see what would happen. The hands-on work was great fun that I couldn’t imagine doing online.
    2. For Construction Management, the degree is offered: a) in the evening on-campus or b) online. As I probed into the actual courses, there is no requirement to drive a bulldozer, move boulders around, or anything like that. The courses are focused on analytics, planning, and management. I could not see any difference in the requirements between the on-campus and the online degrees so my hunch is that the online program was developed as an “extender” of the on-campus program.

    So, based on just two data points, I will draw a straight line to make an hypothesis that the “hardware”-oriented degrees in engineering require a high degree of tactile learning in the lab (I will never forget the results of my first slump test in Concrete Lab where I got a minus 1 inch of slump) while the degrees that are “headier” can be administered online through courses such as statistics, continuum mechanics, etc. This would apply to both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

    What this little bit of analysis does not address are the learnings that you get from face-to-face interaction and teamwork that engineering and many other fields require.

    Chesley Chan
    CEO
    Burma Road Innovations

  40. GP says:

    Hi there,
    I just read through some of the comments.
    I have been looking for a university to complete an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering offered online.

    Has anyone taken this thought to the next level, and assumed that you found a university that offered an accredited degree in engineering via distance/online learning.

    I live in Alberta, and so I contacted APPEGA (www.apegga.org) – Regulates and licenses the disciplines of engineering, geology and geophysics in Alberta, Canada through practice standards and a code of ethics.

    I contaced APPEGA,, and they said that the ABET accreditation would be invalidated, a course by course evaluation would take place, and any courses taken through distance learning would have to be retaken the traditional way.

    He also said that ABET accreditation is much inferior to our own CEAB accreditation.

    Now, having posted these findings I would like to hear what Albertans or Canadians have to say who are studying via the University of North Dakota or have completed a distance engineering degree and how they registered.

    GP

    • Tony Bates says:

      Many thanks for this, GP. I’m disappointed but not surprised by the APPEGA stance. All I can say is that in Canada accreditation standards vary from province to province, and from subject to subject.

      The problem for those that want to study at a distance is that they often have no choice in the matter – it’s either by distance or impossible. This makes it all the more necessary for the engineering profession and engineering schools in Canada to take online learning more seriously. Some engineering courses, or parts of engineering courses, clearly do not need a lab experience. While it may not be acceptable to take a whole program online, at least at present, it should be much easier to take a substantial part of it online.

      It looks like engineering education will be the last educational silo to make it into the 21st century.

      • DD says:

        Thanks for the update GP. This is very disappointing to hear but at least you looked deeper into the issue. I am currently in the same boat, Alberta resident with zero engineering distance courses.

  41. I want to do Carpentry but my college has given us a option to do
    Joinery as well and i just want to know whats the difference and
    what i would need to do as a carpenter and as a joiner.
    Please and Thank You.

  42. Tommy says:

    This is my first semester in the UND civil engineering program. I received my AS in civil engineering this past summer. Due to change in work schedule I am no longer able to do “traditional school.” I stumbled across UND due to the fact they are the only ABET accredited EAC program. I spoke with my boss about it and he said as long as they are EAC accredited thru ABET, it doesn’t matter the name of the school. Everything is thru blackboard, tests, homework, etc. The only thing is in the summer you have to travel there for 1-2 weeks to do the labs. Since I have previously takem both my chemistry’s and physic’s, I only have to go for two of the engineering labs. So far I have been very impressed with the knowledge of the professors and there promptness in responding. I have had a better experiece so far in my 3.5 months doing the DEDP than previously thru my local school. I will complete my degree by next fall.

    • GP says:

      Thanks for your input Tommy:
      I’m guessing that you are living and working in the USA? There must be some sort of engineering governing body and standard set by an organization for your state. Are they okay with a degree earned via distance learning, for example the one that UND offers?

      GP

  43. Dan Gagnon says:

    I’ve read through these postings and it looks like there is no way to get a bachelors degree in engineering ONLINE or through distance education that is recognized in Canada. Is that a fair assumption?

    • Walter Spicer says:

      It would appear to be a matter of ABET accreditation and how your provincial engineering organization handles it. The Washington Accord says that ABET is equivalent in Canada but the comments by GP above show that in Alberta it is not. I for one would like to know if that means the accord is no longer valid. If you’re in another province, contact the local engineering association and let us know their policy on ABET based degrees.

      • Walter Spicer says:

        Also note that the UND online degrees are not 100% online since the labs have to be done on campus. I’ll guess this is how they maintain their ABET rating. Therefore it would not be correct to ask a local professional engineering organization about online engineering degrees when it is not 100% online, not the labs. I think it would be important to make that distinction. If they think it’s 100% online they may dismiss it out of hand because of the requirements for CEAB.

  44. Allison says:

    My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from
    PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs.

    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on various websites for
    about a year and am worried about switching
    to another platform. I have heard good things about blogengine.net.

    Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into
    it? Any help would be really appreciated!

  45. i’m working underground as a mine employee,i decided to persue a career in mining engineering and definitely there’s no doubt about it because all modules that I’m doing are similar to those of university of Johannesburg and also the curriculum is the same, all students i know completed mining engineering at unisa preceded their studies by spending another one doing BTech at university of Johannesburg, so the national diploma from university of Johannesburg is equivalent to the one from unisa,but the difference is at unisa you have the choice of choosing how many modules u’ll be able to study per semester and this result in a long time of completing the course but education we aquire is the same

  46. Claude Potvin says:

    Last fall (2013) I attended a presentation from « Gillian Saunders & Joost Groot Kormelink (TU Delft, Netherlands) at “The Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference” in Paris. These guys were very proud to talk about their recent online or partly online offering of MSc. in engineering. Here are a couple of notes I took:

    • TU Delft maybe the biggest engineering school in EU after Russia (19 K students)
    • Transformed some engineering masters into Online Learning
    • Same diploma, same requirements, identical rooter as on-campus
    • Digital assessments (proctored)
    • Completely online: Master in Water Management
    • Party online : Aerospace Engineering, Engineering and Policy Analysis
    http://www.tudelft.nl/en/study/online-education/

    There may be some hope for online engineering after all.

    • Tony Bates says:

      Merci beaucoup, Claude. Yes, TU Delft is one of the top Dutch universities with a long history of online and distance education.If they have gone online in engineering it should be top quality.

  47. David MacKinnon says:

    Interesting posts thus far. I live in Windsor, Ontario and completed an ABET program at Lawrence Technological University. I did this commuting after work to Southfield, Michigan. Classes were late afternoons, evenings and weekends. The courses were identical to those in Ontario. Incidently my brother was attending Waterloo and used the exact same textbooks. I worked in Michigan as an electrical engineer for a number of years before coming back to Ontario to teach. Since then completed a MBA at University of Southern Queensland and a Masters of Engineering at University of Wisconsin. Both online graduate programs were very rigorous. In terms of transfering credentials back to the provinces it’s at the discretion of the governing board ( in Ontario it’s PEO ) I haven’t attempted this yet but will apply shortly. You may end up having to work in the States if licensing is not accepted here but I
    know many practicing engineers in Ontario that have not pursued their P Eng status. I also know many PEng’s that are now highschool teachers for what that’s worth. I’ve completed an exhaustive search for online programs and UND and the last 2 years at stony brook ( not yet ABET) approve are the only two I’ve found with solid curriculum in the USA. Transfering back to Canada is a major concern. If you live on a border town, investigate over the border ie… Buffalo, Detroit etc. In terms of graduate work there are many schools online. U of Bath, USQ, Michigan Tech, Gonzaga, univ of Arkansas, Syracuse, university of South Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Waterloo. I am specifically focusing on power engineering. It seems that universities taylor more towards graduate programs. incidently, I have found online programs much more difficult than sitting in class for the simple fact that getting answers to questions may take some time in the form of a conference call or email. Also, if you decide to take classes online find out the format first. Some universities offer only written online work. Better courses stream the live classes or record them for future viewing. I have found that many USA schools have adopted this model. Based on my experience, a viewable, streamed class is comparable to actually being in class without the hassle of commuting.

    • Tony Bates says:

      Great comments, David, and much appreciated. Let us know what happens when you try to transfer your credentials into Ontario. I hope they are accepted

      Regards

Trackbacks

  1. [...] areas for e-learning, because of the need for hands-on experience with equipment and materials (see ‘Can you teach ‘real’ engineering at a distance?’). Simulations and animations are obvious uses, but often expensive and difficult to [...]

Speak Your Mind

*