CSUN Dean of Engineering and Computer Science Teaches Virtually to an Audience Half-Way Around the World

S. K. Ramesh discovered the reach of technology early in his career when his class at Sacramento State was broadcast on cable television to the local market more than 15 years ago.

Early one Saturday in 1998, Ramesh was setting up an informational display at a local mall as part of an engineering outreach event when a janitor approached him and said, “I’ve seen your show.”

“I was amazed as this gentleman started to talk to me. He actually remembered a lot of things that I’d covered in the last lecture,” said Ramesh, who is now dean for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSUN. “It taught me that there were more than my students out there who are viewing this material. And that this was a way to demonstrate the power of higher education and the value that we bring to society.”

Fast forward to 2012. Ramesh continues to be a pioneer when it comes disruptive innovation and is setting an example for his faculty and the CSUN community. This time, his outreach had a global impact as he taught a communication engineering course to six universities in India through the Indo-US Collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE) last spring.

“Intellectually, it’s very stimulating and engaging to be back in the classroom, even though I was virtually there and connecting with students whom in this case I literally could not see,” he said. “The interactivity is really important in learning because it’s easy to get up on stage and convey what it is you want to say. But how do you know that the students at the other end are really learning the material? I think that is a key toward success in education.”

Ramesh’s lectures featured his voice broadcast live along with slides. He used a tablet during his lectures allowing real time annotation of the slides as appropriate. The time difference meant the class started at about midnight here, lunchtime in India.

The class was unique because it was the first time the IUCEE had incorporated student questions and feedback into the virtual setting during the lecture, as opposed to a faculty member just speaking.

“I would pause every so often, either at the end of a topic or maybe after about 20 minutes. Faculty in the classrooms would go around and collect questions based on the material that I’ve covered up to that point, and post them on a little chat window that would show up,” he said.

Once the lecture was complete, Dean Ramesh sometimes took more than an hour to answer all the student inquiries, which often took him into the wee hours of the morning.

“I must admit, giving a lecture in your pajamas is a whole different experience,” Ramesh laughed. “I would definitely do it again. I think I’ve served them well because I got a lot of comments from the students who really seemed to appreciate and value the technology enhanced classroom experience.”
While technology has advanced throughout his career, Ramesh’s early experience at Sacramento State still applies today.

“To me, the experience was being able to reach out to students where they needed to be educated,” he said about the televised class. “We had students who worked in industry, as well as students who were fresh out of school and coming into the university campus. They were all looking for the same thing — to access information in a very effective, timely way. They were using technology as a way of bridging that gap — actively engaged in an interactive learning experience, with the ability to access the content whenever and wherever they needed.”

Interested in teaching virtually? Contact ftc@csun.edu for ways to get started.

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