The future of computers and the teaching of engineering design

William R. Spillers
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ 07102, U.S.A.

I would like to begin with a list of some of the things that are happening today in the arena of engineering design and how it is to be taught:

1.1. Virtual university
In some of the midwestern states, programs are now under way to make a university education available to everyone at a modest cost using the web. The example sometimes cited has someone who wants to learn the computer language C++ doing so at his or her leisure at home using the web. If this person can learn computer programming at home, then what about the other courses that comprise a univer- sity education? The virtual university is a particularly in- teresting idea to a school like New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), where we offer a part-time evening pro- gram under which the student forgoes much of what is thought to be university life.
The implications of the virtual university are dramatic. Will there only be one or two people in the whole world concerned with the teaching of C++ in this new environ- ment? (Parenthetically, what will the rest of us do?) Is a high-quality automated presentation better than some of the sloppy things now served up manually to students? What are the limits of this type of activity? Is there anything in the world of teaching that cannot be automated? What is the difference between training and other types of learning? Is there anything good about a classroom environment that is lost over the web?


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