The on-going debate and activity on distance learning and open-courseware has led to many important questions on education and the role of universities. We believe that this movement will only lead schools such as ours to further enhance the educational experience of on-campus students, and this is a challenge we eagerly embrace. It is not unlike the open competition for ideas in research and exploration. Technology is now opening this competition on the education front as well. With a 40-year experience on reaching out-of-campus students for MS and professional programs through our Distance Education Network, the technology infrastructure in our school allows us to experiment in ways that we hope enrich our curriculum.
In this context, I wanted to introduce an initiative we have undertaken to create a global classroom: The iPodia initiative allows for students from a small number of engineering schools across the globe to take at the same time together a joint class, in a (global) classroom enabled via interactive internet access. The iPodia program lies at the intersection of three important areas: globalization, technology, and engineering education. It is global engineering education in a classroom to which access is enabled through technology. Moreover, because of the synchronous, live interaction between students and instructors it is ideally suited for an “inverted” or “flipped classroom” mode of instruction, in which the classroom experience is dedicated to solving problems, albeit in a global context. We have already experimented with this idea during the last three years by offering pilot classes, one jointly with Peking University, and two jointly with Peking University and with National Taiwan University. The latter three-way partnership has for the first time enabled students from mainland China and from Taiwan to take together with USC students a common class, probably a historical first.
Following-up on the success of these experiments, we now have formed an iPodia Alliance, which is a formal partnership between the engineering schools at USC, Peking University, National Taiwan University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, India Institute of Technology in Mumbai, Technion Israel Institute of Technology and RWTH Aachen University in Germany. In this alliance, the respective universities contribute students, instructors and course material. Interactivity, teams of peers, no exchange of funds or tuition and fees (hence no financial motive), and modern pedagogy make iPodia different than other, current experiments in distance learning, such as MOOC (Massive On-Line Open Courseware) or the EdX initiative. The attached report is a brief explanation of the program.
I hope that you will find it useful and a somewhat different contribution to the on-line debate.
Yannis C. Yortsos
USC Viterbi School of Engineering