IT Sligo is in the running for a prize in the Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards for an initiative that brings a pioneering practical dimension to online engineering courses.
Staff at IT Sligo’s School of Engineering & Design have devised a unique technique that delivers PC-based engineering practicals in which students remotely control a ‘computer laboratory’ from home.
The ‘Online Labs’ initiative is set to alter radically how the Institute of Technology teaches engineering to distance learners. Already, three key courses are delivered using the new system, which is set to be extended to other IT Sligo online engineering programmes.
The project has been shortlisted in the prestigious Excellence Awards’ ‘Best in the Class 2013’ category. The winner will be announced at an ceremony in Dublin on November 8th in Dublin.
The technique means that online engineering students who previously had to attend the Institute periodically to use its computer-suite for practical elements of their course, can now access the suite from home and interact with the lecturer and other class members.
Project technician, Ross McMorrow, said: “A major challenge faced in delivering engineering courses online is the difficulty in linking theory with real world problems, through practical application. The Online Labs initiative was set up to provide a solution to the inherent lack of practical elements in online engineering courses.” Ross has a BEng (Hons) in Mechatronics from IT Sligo.
The online lab is one of several IT Sligo online learning innovations developed with the aid of EU-INTERREG funding. It consists of twenty student computers and one instructor computer, equipped with Citrix GoToMeeting online meeting software.
“This software allows the lecturer to provide the necessary dynamic presentation features and enhanced audio capabilities for two-way audio between students and lecturer,” Ross explained. “The student computers are equipped with remote access software which allows the students to remotely control the computers in the laboratory from anywhere in the world.
“After significant research, as far as can be ascertained, IT Sligo is the only provider of PC based online practicals through a commercial service provider, in Ireland.”
IT Sligo delivers more than 40 varied internet programmes to around 1,100 students worldwide.
Photo caption: Ross McMorrow of IT Sligo’s Online Labs development team