Satellite and microwave transmissions have become commonplace in continuing education. Transmissions are typically set up between a university and a corporation, and both satellite and microwave transmissions allow for 2-way audio, which means engineers can ask professors questions during the lecture, just as if they were in the campus classroom. Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts are just two examples of universities that run such programs.
Some companies have even moved beyond the one-university, one-corporation satellite link. Texas Instruments, in conjunction with Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), created an extended continuing education system that serves Northern Texas. Called The Association for Graduate Education and Research, or TAGER, and now operated independently by the Texas Association for Higher Education (Dallas, TX), the network includes SMU, the University of Dallas, the University of Northern Texas, and the University of Texas at Arlington. The network transmits classes via microwave to a variety of subscribers, including Motorola, Rockwell International, and General Dynamics.
HP has also taken satellite education a step further. In addition to subscribing to Stanford’s microwave network, HP set up a nationwide computer-science program for its engineers with California State University at Chico. The university transmits classes via microwave to HP’s Roseville site, and from Roseville the courses are transmitted nationwide. HP even allows other corporations to subscribe to its network.
Engineers also have another satellite option: If their companies subscribe to the National Technological University (Fort Collins, CO), they can participate in courses that can lead to a Master of Science degree in computer engineering or science, electrical or manufacturing engineering, engineering management, materials science and engineering, or technology management.
At present, 29 universities offer NTU’s accredited program, and about 70 organizations subscribe, says Mark Bradley, NTU’s director of customer development and service. Member universities include Purdue University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the Georgia Institute of Technology; subscribers include General Electric and Digital Equipment Corp.
“The professors are teaching to students both on campus and at the work place simultaneously,” explains Bradley. “Their lecture goes to a video machine, then to a satellite dish. The signal is picked up by another satellite dish at the job site. Students at the job site can even call in questions via the phone.”
About one-third of NTU’s courses are offered live, while the remaining courses are videotaped and then broadcast at a later date. NTU also has an electronic mail network that lets engineers leave questions for professors, and professors have telephone office hours set aside specifically for NTU students. The average cost for NTU courses is $405 per credit, excluding books or materials. Courses average two to three credit hours.
Engineers who work for companies that don’t have satellite hookups might want to ask their employers to consider the Association for Media-based Continuing Education for Engineers (AMCEE), based in Atlanta, GA. AMCEE offers about 700 different videotaped courses, in long (25 to 50 hours) and short (one to 20 hours) form. The tapes are produced by the 33 member universities, including MIT and Stanford, and then distributed to companies.
AMCEE courses aren’t offered for credit, however, and company sponsorship is needed to participate in AMCEE, as the cost of courses–$15,000, on average, to cover the purchase of a set of videotapes–is prohibitively high for individuals. Still, though many of AMCEE’s customers are large corporations like General Electric, AT&T, and IBM, the majority of ACMEE’s business comes from smaller companies, says Greg Stenzoki, an ACMEE course counselor. AMCEE also rents courses for about one-third the cost.
With the help of a VCR, learning at home has become a viable option. The Educational Activities Board of the IEEE, for instance, produces a variety of self-paced independent study materials aimed at engineers who want to continue their education at their own pace.
Study materials range from home video tutorials (HVTs), which cover timely topics and update technological developments, to individual learning programs (ILPs), which are entire courses that engineers can finish at home. Approximately 50 HVTs are available, and prices for IEEE members range from $49.95 for a 2-hour tape to $519.95 for a 13-tape series. Eight HVTs are offered to IEEE members at a cost of $200 to $250. IEEE volunteers review the videos’ quality and relevance.
The IEEE also sponsors satellite videoconferences, which cover various state-of-the-art developments.
Because finding college courses that cover recent developments in technology can be difficult, many large electronics companies have produced their own in-house courses to cover topics perceived to be potential trends.
AT&T, for instance, has been teaching courses on the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) for about five years, says Conover. The company has a catalog of 150 courses specifically developed for engineers, says Conover. “For each type of engineer we hire, we’ve developed a curriculum that would give them the equivalent of a master’s level education.”