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Internet-based learning and the College of Engineering: A high-speed connection

Remember the long hours spent tediously typing college applications? This time-consuming activity seems to be suffering the fate of the antiquated typewriter. This year, more than one-third of 75,000 prospective UW-Madison students used the Internet to submit fall enrollment applications. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions projects that this number will double for the 2001 academic year.

Like the college application itself, this is only the beginning, as the Internet and its capabilities now permeate all aspects of education. Students in the College of Engineering and all across campus report that the Internet and other technologically driven devices and services are having a significant impact on the way they learn. Professors and administrators emphatically agree.

Wendt Library computer lab.
Reza Wuisan, a senior industrial engineering major, is one of many students who use the Kurt F. Wendt Library computer lab to access the Internet. Wuisan uses the Internet almost every day to prepare for his engineering classes. Larger Image

Michael L. Corradini, College of Engineering associate dean for academic affairs, noted that the college is currently involved in several technologically based education programs. "One great example of how technology is changing education can be seen in the evolution of large lecture classes that traditionally require anywhere from 100 to 300 students to attend a general meeting," said Corradini. "Now, the information presented during the lectures is offered to students via the Internet. When the student attend class, they have the opportunity to engage in small group activities like problem solving. This is a better use of their time because it allows them to interact with the professor on a more personal level, thus improving their education."

The Internet is becoming an important part of the classroom experience. As Eric Gracyalny, the college's webmaster, explains, the college uses two course homepage authoring systems, WebCT and a simpler version called eCOW. Both systems use online forms to generate a homepage from which professors can distribute information to students. WebCT even allows online quizzes, chats and grade books, but as Gracyalny explained, using the bells and whistles associated with these functions is not always intuitive.

Gracyalny noted that eCOW is much easier to use. "The eCOW system is primarily a mechanism for instructors to communicate with their students by placing files online for students to download, e-mailing, participating in electronic message boards and forums," said Gracyalny. "During the Fall 2000 semester, there were 140 eCOW homepages being maintained by faculty and staff."

An informal survey of College of Engineering undergraduate students revealed that advances like eCOW have a dramatic impact on their education. Of those surveyed, nearly 70 percent use the Internet on a weekly basis for their classes and 100 percent said that the web was a useful educational tool in engineering classes.

Reza Wuisan, a senior industrial engineering major, explained that he uses the Internet every day to prepare for his engineering classes. "The Internet's a useful tool because it offers so much information," said Wuisan. "Electronic access to the library makes it easy to find scientific journals and book reviews."

Thomas Murray, director of Kurt F. Wendt Library, explained that UW-Madison libraries, including Wendt, offer science and engineering literature to faculty and students in ways very different than a decade ago. "All major indexes and abstracts of journal articles are available to the campus via the web. So too are several thousand electronic versions of journals; campus libraries also have purchased several thousand web-accessible electronic books," said Murray.

To help with the resulting information overload for faculty and students, Wendt Library will soon offer a prototype 'web portal' system. This will permit a library user to customize a library homepage and include links to just those indexes, e-journals, and other resources of most interest to that individual.

From online applications for admission to information on college graduation and everything in between, the College of Engineering's high-speed connection to the Internet is greatly improving the quality of education. To learn more about how the college uses the web, visit www.engr.wisc.edu.

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