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Innovation Through Collaboration

SUNY's online Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering program (BSEE) exemplifies the power in cross-campus online collaboration. The program is one of the first to combine resources across colleges in an online learning environment, and among the first in the nation to offer electronic laboratory sections completely online.

The online BSEE program combines the talents and resources of three SUNY University Centers—Stony Brook University, University at Buffalo and Binghamton University—to provide students a pathway to a bachelor's degree and career advancement through a rigorous yet flexible program. SUNY professors Wendy Tang, Pao-Lo Liu and Charles Westgate developed the pioneering program when they saw a need and desire for the degree but accessibility obstacles for those with work and family commitments. "It became clear at the national level that many were interested in the degree, but had no means to obtain it because they were working full time, in the military or abroad and simply didn’t have access in any other way to earn a bachelor's degree," says Dr. Westgate.

The three founding faculty members are proud of the successful collaboration between campuses and are avid supporters of the online learning experience, noting that SUNY online programs are anything but watered down. Students enjoy the flexibility of online classes, but must also be self-motivated and dedicated—and there is no opportunity to get lost in the crowd.

"We know our online students extremely well," says Dr. Tang. "In many cases, they don't just turn in answers, they submit photos, demonstration videos and the like."

Faculty hold online office hours, email with students frequently, and connect with them through discussion forums and virtual labs and projects. They also tailor classes and assignments to the online platform, ensuring lessons are filled with intricate detail while anticipating questions students may have along the way.

"We interact with students in as many ways as we can think of to help them throughout the course," says Dr. Liu. "We customize courses to handle the fact that classes are not face to face."

Dr. Liu, who pioneers the online laboratory courses, is continually impressed with the caliber of his online students and says their academic performance is the best he’s seen during his tenure at SUNY. "This asynchronous model of learning is very powerful," says Dr. Liu. "When someone has the flexibility to learn when they are in the best frame of mind for it, one hour of learning can be much better than absent-mindedly sitting through hours of lectures."

Dr. Tang echoes these sentiments, adding that online students have the opportunity to be more reflective and devote more time to their answers rather than having to think on the spot as in a classroom setting. Thoughtful, mature students tend to thrive in an online learning environment.

The BSEE program continues to enjoy much success, soon reaching another milestone in 2014 when they seek accreditation from ABET (Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology).

"The program has been a success because the faculty who are involved are committed to it and enjoy teaching in the online platform," says Westgate. "It's a very collaborative process across three engineering programs. Not every school alone has the expertise needed to support these types of programs."

The BSEE program serves as a microcosm for the immense, collaborative learning initiatives that Open SUNY is bringing to students across New York and beyond.

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