PRISM Magazine - Exploring the future of engineering education
teaching toolbox - teaching

Phillip Wankat
and Frank Oreovicz

Teaching LIVE! from Lecture Hall 105 . . .

Tips for taking your class on the road by going on-air.

Your department chair has just given you approval to teach an elective course next semester—provided that you offer it on TV or videotape as well as in a traditional lecture setting. The chair explains that the department is trying to serve practicing engineers, and that to offer your course, you need more students than would probably register on campus.

You're tempted, but you need to know more about teaching on TV. Here's what to expect and how to score high ratings with your new audience.

Know your viewers.

    Off-campus students are generally older, more settled, more experienced, and more motivated—but have probably ignored mathematics and theory for years. They prefer the convenience and flexibility of a TV/video course to commuting to campus, and they may require more flexibility from you, since practicing engineers generally don't have control over their travel schedules. Most will excel at projects but will have difficulty on tests requiring extensive theory, and will want more industrial applications and less theory than you probably normally include.

Must-see A/V.

    Good visual materials are essential, so make sure your off-site students can easily make out all of your overheads. A standard word processor is okay, but Powerpoint is superb. Use black or blue ink on a light blue, light brown, or light gray background. For graphics, use bold 48 point lettering (a minimum of 24 point), with at most eight lines per page. Lay the graphics out in landscape mode (use a 4 x 3 width-to-height ratio) to match the TV screen. Textbook illustrations usually have too much detail to show clearly, so simplify them considerably. Redrawing and simplifying also avoids potential copyright problems. Finally, don't forget that your off-site students won't be able to clearly see anything you put on the blackboard!

Film a pilot episode.

    Make a practice tape to acclimate yourself. Eventually, most teachers make peace with the camera. Look at the camera occasionally to make eye contact with the TV audience. Smile often. Speak clearly and avoid colloquialisms. If you are broadcasting live via satellite, make sure to finish on time, because the TV program certainly will.

Be more than a talking head.

    TV and video's greatest disadvantage is that interaction is difficult. Most students will watch asynchronously (i.e., on tape at a later time), so even if you have two-way video capability, live interaction is not the norm. To build rapport, communicate with the off-campus students in every way possible: e-mail, evening telephone office hours, a Web page, chat rooms, announcements in class, and, if possible, a visit to their companies.

Other considerations.

    Consider making homework solutions available before grading to overcome slower turn-around to off-campus students. Students prefer hard copies to Web postings—not everyone has easy access to the Web, and scanned solutions are sometimes of marginal legibility. For your lectures, keep in mind that although TV allows you to pre-tape, it's difficult to lecture well in an empty studio; and because lectures for TV courses require more preparation, you should avoid teaching a new course on TV. Remember to repeat in the lecture questions that you are asked outside of class—from either group. For testing, you won't have as much control as you are used to, but you shouldn't have to worry too much about cheating—many companies fire employees who are caught—and a proctor will probably be required anyway.

Teaching on TV is extra work and has more hassles, but it will help you develop a more organized course. Most universities also pay instructors a little extra for TV teaching, and you may even land a recurring role as a consultant through the industry contacts you make.


Phillip Wankat is a chemical engineering professor at Purdue University; Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue's chemical engineering school.
You can reach them via e-mail at  and .
Or visit the Teaching Engineering website at .

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