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University of Wisconsin - Madison College of Engineering
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Photo of James Blanchard.

James Blanchard
Electrical and Computer Engineering


An interactive teacher, James (Jake) Blanchard uses technology to engage students on campus and around the world.

After he joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1988, Blanchard began using a new method for teaching computing. Rather than emphasize writing and debugging compiled programs, he taught advanced mathematical software such as Maple and MATLAB to help students understand how they can best use it to solve realistic engineering problems. He developed the course Engineering Problem Solving I (NEEP 271) to help students learn to use this software. In addition, he transformed the course from primarily a lecture-based course into an interactive learning experience in which he speaks briefly and then allows students to solve problems cooperatively. Ultimately, this course (and a related course in civil and environmental engineering) prompted computer sciences faculty to develop a similar course for other engineering departments.

Blanchard also developed an advanced version of NEEP 271 that could be delivered effectively over the Internet to students in the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP) program. Since its inception in 1995, he has been involved extensively in the nationally recognized distance-learning program. He was a member of the program planning committee, helped to design the curriculum, serves on the MEPP admissions committee, and teaches in the program. More than 200 students have taken his course, Engineering Problem Solving with Computers (EPD 470). “Jake’s balanced teaching approach reinforced the fundamentals while allowing each student the ability to technically drill deeper in areas that directly impacted our professional work discipline,” says an MEPP alumnus.

To develop EPD 470 for engaging online delivery, Blanchard and other MEPP faculty and staff used such technologies as “Moodle” for course management, “LiveMeeting” for web conferences, “Camtasia” for taped mini-lectures, and “Docushare” for file management. He also created short videos to help market MEPP and has uploaded some of them to the popular video-sharing website YouTube.

As director of the college Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) unit, his contributions included improving CAE facilities; increasing the number of information-technology staff, and expanding student access to engineering software. Says a colleague: “Through his leadership and the innovative efforts he has initiated in technology-enhanced instruction, Jake has already had a positive instructional influence on thousands of students on our campus—and that influence will extend to many thousands more in coming years.”