Logo: University of Southern California

iPodia Goes Latin

A new iPodia course connects USC Viterbi and University of São Paulo engineering students to enhance learning and create a classroom without borders.
By: Ang Liu
March 05, 2014 —

 USC Viterbi student Arsalan Heydarian in a Los Angeles classroom interacts with University of São Paulo (USP) students thousands of miles away in Brazil.
Connected by the video conferencing technology, instructors and students located in Los Angeles and São Paulo were immersed in a common learning environment, synchronously discussing the same subject of sustainability. This pictures what happened in the first lecture of “CE599 - Sustainability in the Built Environment,” a graduate level engineering course that is collaboratively developed by the University of Southern California (USC) and University of São Paulo (USP). A total of 40 graduate students from both universities are enrolled in this global course. They will learn together for an extended spring semester of 12 weeks to address a variety of specific research issues in the large context of sustainability. The lead instructors of this course are USC Viterbi Professor Lucio Soibelman and Professor Vanderley Moacyr John at USP. In addition, multiple key USC and USP faculties will also contribute to this course by sharing expert perspectives in their specialized sustainability topics.

The course objective is to introduce students the subject of sustainable development of the built environment with focus on buildings and urban infrastructure comparing sustainability main issues for developed and developing countries using the US and the Brazil as case studies. The course is structured in a particular way that the weekly lecture will be jointly taught by both USC and USP professors, hence exposing students to the collision of two different perspectives on the same sustainability issue. More importantly, a variety of carefully designed assignments will guide students to debate these different perspectives, and leverage what they learnt to catalyze better sustainability theories and solutions.

Soibelman was inspired to create such a course by his living and education experiences in both countries, leading to his insights on today’s global sustainability research.

“So far, the study of sustainability is mostly dominated by the developed countries, and the established theories and solutions are then ‘exported’ to the developing countries,” Soibelman said. “However, the reality is that there is by no means a perfect sustainability theory and hence in no way a universal sustainability solution for both developed and developing countries.”

Such sentiments were echoed by Soibelman’s counterpart, São Paulo’s John, during his course opening presentation entitled “Sustainable construction: is there a global agenda?”

“Economically, feasibility is a precondition for sustainability,” he said. “Unlike the developed countries, how to overcome the paradox between higher construction cost and better building sustainability is always a key challenge in front of the developing countries like Brazil.”

As the course code suggests, CE-599 is a research-oriented course, with over half of its participants being Ph.D. students. Despite students’ diverse academic backgrounds, they all join the class with clear research goals.

“The reason why I take this course is not only because I am interested in sustainability, but also because it’s closely related to my research on the energy usage in buildings,” said Simin Ahmadi Karviegh, a Ph.D. student in the Civil Engineering department at USC.

This unique USC-USP course is made possible by the USC-led iPodia Alliance. USC Viterbi initiated the iPodia Alliance in 2012, aiming to create a “classroom-without-borders” paradigm that allows students from partnered institutions to take a common class interactively and learn collaboratively from one another in a real time immersive learning environment. University of São Paulo joined the iPodia Alliance in February 2013, and it was marked as the first Latin American participation in iPodia.

Future progress of this course can be traced in the course portal at