Mastering the art of virtual post-graduate study with Collaboration technology
Webex makes light work of Masters engineering qualification
Dr Toby Thompson, Networked Learning Director, Learning Design and Innovation at Cranfield University, explains how Cisco collaboration technology has helped him, along with Cranfield’s engineering and manufacturing experts, deliver the first completely virtual engineering post graduate course.
New town, new ideas
A new town evokes images of pioneers, progression and a different approach to living and working. So, it’s fitting that a new type of post graduate course has been made available for the first time at Cranfield’s campus near Milton Keynes, home to Bletchley Park and one of the fastest growing commercial and urban areas in the UK.
Cranfield University is the UK’s sole postgraduate-only education provider, and perhaps it’s this uniqueness that inspires us to push the boundaries of education provision.
Collaborate to educate
We’re proud of our in-house expertise at Cranfield, our research capabilities and industry partnerships, all of which help us play a role in creating tomorrow’s technology and management leaders. And our commitment to flexible, innovative learning has recently culminated in the successful delivery of the first virtual postgraduate engineering apprenticeship programme, using Cisco Webex.
The first programme of its type, this business focused engineering post-graduate level 7 Engineering Competence qualification was run for BAE Systems as part of its apprentice engineering scheme for graduate engineers, and is a step towards reaching Chartered Engineering (CEng) accreditation for their large population of level 7 apprentices.
An online engineering course?
Yes, really. With all of the students in full time employment and based at various locations in the UK, virtual teaching was the ideal medium, as Webex’s inherent flexibility enabled them to study without incurring travel or accommodation costs
The 8 x 4-day online modules of the PG Diploma included design-driven innovation, operations management and general management. Teaching was delivered entirely online, combining live interactive video sessions, with interaction on a virtual learning environment.
Reliable, confidential and secure
Security, confidentiality and reliability are always top of mind for us. Understandably therefore, using virtual training technology to run a course on behalf of a global defence, aerospace and security company potentially raises concerns on all three counts. As a Webex user for over 15 years however, I had no such apprehensions and knew that the virtual study environment would be as secure as it was reliable.
Just as importantly, Webex can support thousands of virtual participants, so simultaneously bringing 73 students into the virtual classroom was easy for us.
Ultimately though, student experience is always the most important consideration, and our participants greatly appreciated Webex’s convenience and flexibility. The combination of live interactive and recorded ‘on-demand’ sessions has meant that they could study securely from almost anywhere, often from home, and in ways that fitted with their existing work and lives in general.
Virtual study doesn’t mean working in isolation however. The breakout feature of WebEx has enabled students to work in small groups of 4s and 5s, which they’ve really enjoyed. As well as learning with their peers from across the company, these breakout groups have helped Cranfield keep the course focused on company issues. Students also keep in contact with each other and with their lecturers, via the applications’ chat and feedback features.
We’re really proud to be playing a part in boosting Britain’s engineering skills by delivering Masters-level training in a completely new way. And while nothing will ever completely replace face-to-face teaching, Webex does help broaden the scope and accessibility of academic study, making it more readily available to full time workers and/or people whose location may make it difficult to travel to a training provider.
Webex has helped us demonstrate that higher education can be flexible and convenient, and for me, the future of post-graduate study looks like this.