Simultaneous Classes From UCI to Mexico

UC Irvine’s Teaching, Learning and Technology Center has begun broadcasting classes utilizing new video teleconferencing technology to simultaneously teach classes both at UCI and abroad. The first courses using this new method were taught over winter quarter and broadcasted to the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico.

In the class, a video camera that follows the teacher as he or she moves is set up, coupled with another camera much like a projector that records any notes the professor might take. Students in Monterrey can raise their hand if they have a question, and the professor at UCI can call on them.

According to Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Marc Madou and Rodrigo Martinez-Duarte, graduate student of mechanical and aerospace engineering — both among the founders of the UCI-Tecnológico de Monterrey Alliance — claim this breakthrough could revolutionize the way we interact with professors and students of other nations.

“Being able to communicate with other nations will open up numerous doors,” Madou said.

It was in winter of 2006 when Martinez-Duarte and Madou first met. Duarte, then a recent graduate from the University of Monterrey, and Madou were both attending the same conference in Mexico for Monterrey Technological, a university in Monterrey. During the conference, Madou first made contact with the faculty in Monterrey. Duarte kept in touch with Madou and eventually applied to do collaborative research with the professor.

“From there we had the idea to broadcast classes,” Duarte said. “Then we came up with the idea of the alliance.”

The Alliance, known as the UCI-Tecnológico de Monterrey Alliance for Micro/Nanotechnology-Based Entrepreneurship, is a research, business and scholastic collaborative that also helps start-up companies develop.
The Alliance’s latest project, which began in 2006, involves dielectrophoresis, a technique for particle separation.

“The Alliance’s main goal at this point is to expand,” Madou said. “We would like to make it bigger and include far more professors. The university is actually thinking about this in a very positive way.”

In fact, many other universities are vying for a spot in the teleconferencing game. Northwestern University currently teaches classes via teleconferencing with three or four colleges abroad.

Although UCI has only held classes via video with the University of Monterrey, they have been able to conduct 48 sessions through teleconferencing. From there, teleconferencing can only expand and according to Madou, this number should rise greatly in the near future.

But before the university firmly establishes this technology, there are many changes that need to be made, including making the curriculum more technologically friendly and giving the professors the materials they need to teach.

“It’s sort of difficult, you know, to teach material on-screen in comparison to teaching in person,” Madou said. “So the best first step would be to make the material much more TV-friendly. It would also be wise to formalize it more, [for example] exam taking.”

Although these prospects seem expensive, Madou seems confident that the teleconferencing could save money, even among the recent budget cuts.

“Transportation has become so expensive and people are trying to cut corners. If you can communicate with people across seas without having to actually travel, it can save a bunch of money. So no, I don’t think the budget cuts could affect this. I actually think the opposite.”

Duarte, also positive about the future of teleconferencing, stated that the possibilities are endless. The Alliance is even working to enable double degrees for students in these classes; essentially, students could receive a degree from both UCI and the University of Monterrey.
“It’s going to change things, for sure,” Duarte concluded.