Online Learning in an Engineering Physics Course

Author Information
Dr. John M Long
1. Associate Professor Matthew Joordens; email <> 2. Associate Professor Aman Maung Than Oo; email <> 3. Dr. Joanne Smissen; email ,> 4. Mr. AARON HOARE (student); email <> 5. Mr. DEAN LOUGHRAN (student); email <>
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
School of Engineering
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Deakin University
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Distance education has arisen in the past 30 years or so as a way of providing education to students who otherwise do not have access to local tertiary education facilities. This includes students who live in remote areas, students posted overseas, students who lack mobility, and even students who work during the day where suitable evening classes are not available. Deakin University in Australia has been teaching freshman engineering physics to both on-campus and off-campus students since 1996 [1]. The unit is part of a Bachelor of Engineering program accredited by Engineers Australia. Course materials have developed from written study guides to fully on-line teaching materials, complete with streaming video presentation of lecture and tutorial material. Tutorials are delivered to off-campus students by real-time web-conferencing. Numerous techniques have been trialled to allow online students to perform lab experiments, including in-person weekend classes, at-home activities, video-presentations of experiments, and web-broadcasting of experiments. The course is taught to both online and off-campus students. 2016 enrolments currently are 144 online and 144 on-campus. Recent developments have led to "flipping" the on-campus classroom. The experience of teaching this course online made this process very straightforward. Increasingly, we are seeing a blurred distinction between online and on-campus.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Basic Delivery
In any semester, there is an online cohort and an on-campus cohort, all enrolled in one course. The course learning outcomes, topic timetable, and assessment items are identical for both cohorts. Study materials are delivered entirely by the course website (Desire2Learn). The primary content is presented as an on‐line study
guide. Topics presented week‐by‐week. Assignments and lab reports are submitted to on‐line drop‐boxes, marked by rubrics, and feedback is delivered via the website. Video lectures have been employed since 2009. Synchronous web‐conferencing tutorials began in 2009 [2]. Students communicate with each other by means of discussion boards and by an open web-conferencing website. Online multi‐choice quizzes supplement assessment. All on-campus lectures are automatically recorded and made available in multiple formats, downloads, and streaming.

Lab experiments
Delivering lab experiments to online students is a very big challenge. In physics, Deakin has trialled a number of strategies:
1. Students complete a series of experiments at home with locally sourced materials [3].
2. Experiments are video-recorded and made available to students to watch and record data [4].
3. A fluids experiment was delivered to students by remote-control [5].
4. Experiments were webcast in real-time to online students [6].
5. Students attend on-campus lab classes on weekends or during a special School-wide residential week [7].

(In freshman electronics, we have had much success in delivering practical education by means of an at-home experimental kit [8,9].)

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Enrolments in online freshmen physics have been increasing for the past nine years [10]. The percentage of students enrolled online as compared to all enrolments has increased from 15% in 2007 to 50% in 2016. Both overall grades and lab-specific grades for online and on-campus have been consistently comparable. Student satisfaction scores have also been consistently comparable between online and on-campus students [11]. The attached documentation supports these claims in some detail.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning effectiveness
Engineering Physics is taught on-campus once semester per year and online two semesters per year. The same teaching team runs the course in both modes. In semester one, on-campus and online run simultaneously as the same course with two cohorts. The only difference between the two modes is pedagogy, and even that overlaps significantly.

Deakin University [12] is a major provider of online learning both in Australia and southeast Asia, and has been since the 1970's. In 1988, it was one of the eight centers of distance-education set up by the Australian Government [13]. The online cohort is the University's fastest growing, with over 15000 online students (30% of total enrolments). Deakin's School of Engineering is one of four universities in Australia that offers a fully accredited Bachelor of Engineering program online. Tuition rates are identical for online and on-campus.

The University has a large range of online academic programs [14]. In addition, it provides extensive academic support services to online students [15]. It's Library has a long-standing, efficient process for delivering books and other materials to students located across Australia and overseas. Examinations are conducted at designated exam centers places around the country, including remote locations and small towns. From the beginning in the 1970's, Deakin has put into place the necessary infrastructure to make effective distance education and online learning possible.

Faculty satisfaction
In the School of Engineering, all undergraduate courses are taught in both online and on-campus modes. This has been the practice for over 20 years. All academic staff are committed to online delivery of engineering education. In addition, the School has a long history of scholarship in teaching, especially online learning and distance education. (See the reference lists in the attached documentation.) This includes conference papers, journal articles, and three doctoral dissertations [16-18] in engineering education. Currently the School employs 37 academic teaching staff, all who are committed to online learning [19].

Student satisfaction
As measured by the Australian Graduate-Destinations Survey, post-graduation rates of our online graduates are equal or better than the corresponding on-campus rates, and comparable to national averages. Similarly, overall student satisfaction rates (as measured by the Australian Course-Experience Questionnaire) are comparable between online, on-campus, and national trends. Overall online enrolments have been increasing every year since 2010.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

There is little specialised equipment needed to effectively run an online course in either engineering in general or in physics in particular. Apart from an effective learning-management system, at the level of the lecturer, the only specialised equipment needed is perhaps a tablet-PC, which makes it easy to produce short teaching videos and conduct online classes [20]. Video-recording studios are a help. With the trend towards "flipping the classroom", most universities are investing in recording studios, and most universities have the IT infrastructure to deliver courses online. That being said, to effectively deliver multiple online programs, the University needs to invest in some infrastructure, including the means to run exams, teaching staff for weekend residential classes, advanced learning management systems, software platforms, postal services and printeries (now more or less obsolete), and an effective Library service.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The best estimate is that of the total cost of running the Engineering-Physics course, delivering the online component is no more than 30% of the total cost. This is because the same infrastructure exists for both cohorts. Extra costs incurred are the teaching costs associated with running lab sessions and tutorials for online students.

References, supporting documents: 

[1] Long, J.M., Joordens, M.A., and Littlefair, G. (2014), "Engineering Distance Education at Deakin University Australia," IACEE 14th World Conference on Continuing Engineering Education (Stanford University, California), 24-27 June 2014, ISBN 978-0-9916289-0-2.

[2] Long, J.M., Cavenett, S.W., Gordon, E., and Joordens, M. (2014), "Enhancing Learning for Distance Students in an Undergraduate Engineering Course through Real-Time Web-Conferencing," 2014 American Society for Engineering Education International Forum (Indianapolis, Indiana), 14 June, paper No. 11024.

[3] Long, J.M., Stannard, W.B., Chenery, K., and Joordens, M.A. (2012),"Physics Practicals for Distance Education in an Undergraduate Engineering Course," in Proceedings of the 2012 Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference, Mann, L. and Daniel, S., Eds., Melbourne: Australasian Association for Engineering Education.

[4] Long, J.M., Thomas, S.K., Campbell, A.M.V., Crawford, T., Sian, R.K., Stannard, W.B., et al. (2014), "Video Presentations in Engineering-Physics Practicals to Increase the Efficiency of Teaching and Learning," 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (Wellington, New Zealand), ISBN 978-0-473-30428-7.

[5] Lemckert, C. and Florance, J. (2002), "Real-Time Internet Mediated Laboratory Experiments for Distance Education Students," British Journal of Educational Technology 33(1), pp. 99-102.

[6] Long, J.M., Chenery, K.L., Stannard, W.B., and Fitzgerald, K.J. (2013), "Use of Web-Conferencing Software to Enhance Practical Learning for Distance Students in a First-Year Engineering Course," 24th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (Gold Coast, Queensland), 8-11 December.

[7] Long, J.M., Cavenett, S.W., and Chandrasekaran, S. (2015),"Residential Schools in a First-Year Undergraduate Engineering Programme," in Proceedings of the 26th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education, Oo, A., Patel, A., Hilditch, T., and Chandran, S., Eds., Geelong: Deakin University, pp. 525-536.

[8] Long, J.M., Florance, J.R., and Joordens, M. (2004), "The Use of Home Experimentation Kits for Distance Students in First-Year Undergraduate Electronics," 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition (Salt Lake City).

[9] Long, J.M., Horan, B.P., and Hall, R.H. (2012), "Undergraduate Electronics Students’ Use of Home Experiment Kits for Distance Education," 2012 Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education (San Antonio, TX), 10-13 June.

[10] Long, J.M. (2013), "Recent Advances in Distance Education for Physics Students," Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education 2013 (Canberra), 19-21 September p. 47, ISBN 978-0-9871834-2.

[11] Long, J.M. (2015),"Cloud-Based Teaching in an Engineering-Physics Course," in 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference Proceedings, DeAntonio, M., Ed., Piscataway, NJ: IEEE, pp. 1832-1839.


[13] Arger, G. (1993),"Australia," in Distance Education in Asia and the Pacific: Country Papers. vol. 1, Arger, G., LaBonte, J., Wong, S.Y., Brahmawong, C., Kariya, T., and Yoshida, A., Eds., Japan: National Institute for Media Education, pp. 1-13.



[16] Palmer, S.R., "An Evaluation of Australian Undergraduate Engineering Management Education for Flexible Delivery," Doctor of Technology thesis, School of Engineering and Technology, Deakin University, Geelong, 2001.

[17] Ferguson, C., "Attributes for Australian Mechanical Engineers through Proximal and Distance Education," Doctor of Technology thesis, School of Engineering and Information Technology, Deakin University, Geelong, 2006.

[18] Chandrasekaran, S., "Project Oriented Design Based Learning (PODBL) in Engineering Education," PhD thesis, School of Engineering, Deakin University, Geelong, 2014.


[20] Joordens, M. (2014),"The Tablet PC: A Complete Teaching Studio," in Using Technology Tools to Innovate Assessment, Reporting, and Teaching Practices in Engineering Education, Alam, F., Ed., Hershey, PA: IGI Global, pp. 149-163.

Other Comments: 

I will be submitting a paper soon to the OLC journal, outlining online education in engineering at Deakin University.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
1. Associate Professor Matthew Joordens; email <> 2. Associate Professor Aman Maung Than Oo; email <> 3. Dr. Joanne Smissen; email ,> 4. Mr. AARON HOARE (student); email <> 5. Mr. DEAN LOUGHRAN (student); email <>