A number of people have contacted me over the past several months regarding my experience at Arizona State University in their online Electrical Engineering program, so I thought I would share my thoughts now that I have completed my first year. This will be a follow up to my original post, which can be found at the following link:
Here is a quick run-down of the classes I took this year.
ASU 101 – The ASU Experience
FSE 100 – Introduction to Engineering
CSE 100 – Principles of Programming with C++
FAS 331 – Marriage/Family Relationships
MAT 170 – Precalculus
MAT 265 – Calculus for Engineer I
MAT 266 – Calculus for Engineers II
MAT 267 – Calculus for Engineers III
MAT 275 – Modern Differential Equations
CHM 114 – General Chemistry for Engineers
PHY 121 – University Physics I: Mechanics
PHY 122 – University Physics Laboratory I
Administratively, ASU has been great. Their online tools found in the myASU site make it easy to search for classes and get registered. I was always able to locate what I needed when I needed it. I only ever had one problem with regards to registering for classes. I recently registered for spring 2015 classes and was not initially able to sign up for my physics classes. A quick call to school got me in touch with a helpful young lady that took care of the issue. It turned out that the person who normally set up the class schedule in the school’s system was out sick and a new person had set up a few things wrong. Once we identified the problem, they were able to straighten out fairly quickly. At a minimum I was able to register for the classes I wanted on the same day.
Another handy feature in the myASU site was the course map and class audit tool. I find myself frequenting the course map when working out what classes I need to take. Additionally, I can easily create a new audit of all my classes and get an idea of where I am in the degree program. All of this makes having to talk to an advisor less important. However, the advisors are easily available and very helpful as well.
For my first semester I was surprised at how easy my classes generally were. I have to admit I was a little nervous initially going into classes at a bigger name school like Arizona State University. Everyone has to take the ASU experience class and it should be seen as an easy A, but ultimately does introduce you to a lot of the tools you will use in subsequent classes. Introduction to Engineering was conceptually a very easy class. However, it did require a lot of work to keep up with the assignments and a good portion of those assignments are group related. Looking back on it, these two classes were the only two on the list that required me to work in a group. The C++ class is exactly what you think. We used Microsoft Visual Studio to write our applications. We would simply upload our source code through the class site for the instructor to review, or I should say TA or grader. Like any other big name school the instructors don’t seem to do much of the grading in these classes. I was always working with TAs or graders in almost every case. Out of all my classes that first semester, Precalculus was the toughest. It had been a while since I had done college level algebra or trigonometry, so getting up to speed on math was critical. What made this class tough was a lack of solid video lectures from the instructor. It appears not all classes are held to the same standard for creating video lectures. I had some classes that you could tell the instructor had created the material themselves, and recently. Then there were other classes it looked like the department worked together to build the video lectures. In this case there was nothing other then what was provided by the book publisher’s website. For precalculus we used Pearsons Vue MyMathLab. The interface was a little clunky and I had a tough time keeping up with where I was to be. Thankfully my experience in the rest of the math classes was a bit better. My saving grace in this class was a high school math teacher named Bob Tarrou. I came across his YouTube channel while searching for extra lecture content. Even though he is a high school math teacher, don’t let it fool you. His lectures were very well done and effectively saved my grade in precalculus. The key is to look at his playlist and find the class you are interested in. Mr. Tarrous’s YouTube channel is named ProfRobBob and can be found at the following link:
During the summer months I was able to jump right into my first couple of calculus classes. I don’t know how other people feel, but I always felt that calculus was the Great Wall of China standing in my way of getting an engineering degree. The only C’s I ever received in community college were in math classes and even though I got a B out of the precalculus class I wouldn’t say it prepared me all that well for a real calculus class. I was surprised by the change in teaching style and delivery methods. The video lectures were obviously done by the entire math department and not by the specific instructor I had signed up with, but the videos were helpful and they allowed me to watch a single lecture over and over and until I got it. I never had that opportunity siting in a real classroom in community college. To help supplement the provided lectures I found Mr. Tarrou’s YouTube channel was still very helpful through Calculus I. Unfortunately it appeared that the high school setup for calculus II was a little different from my class, so I had to find another instructor for supplemental videos. I was lucky to come across Professor Leonard’s channel. His calculus II material was awesome and supplemented ASU’s provided lectures very well. Professor Leonard’s channel can be found at the following link:
In place of MyMathLab, we used an open source math framework called Webwork. I will admit, I really hated the Webwork interface at first. It seemed even worse than MyMathLab. However, after using Webwork for every subsequent math class, I can say it has grown on me a bit. We typically would be given all of our weekly assignments through Webwork. Each problem for the most part would allow for unlimited attempts to answer it correctly. The nice thing about the online frameworks for math is the instant feedback. You don’t have to wait for the instructors to grade your work and provide a few comments regarding where you went wrong. All of my math tests were also administered through Webwork as well. Since Webwork is an all or nothing kind of way to answers problems, meaning there is no extra points for at least showing your work. We were always given two attempts to submit exams. After submitting the first time, all the problems are marked correct or not and you are given a chance to fix them within the remaining time limited. Overall not a bad system, and there were a few instances that having a second chance to submit the test saved my grade.
Moving into the fall semester I started out by taking chemistry and calculus III together and then took physics and differential equations. This was a tough semester and makes me rethink my stance on taking on a full course load all the time. Each of the classes are completely doable on their own, but trying to take two at a time proved to be very difficult with a family and career. My grades did end up suffering a lot for this.
Now based on my course map, I would need either CHM 114 General Chemistry for Engineers or CHM 116 General Chemistry II. I was hoping to take CHM 116 since I was able to transfer in a chemistry class from anther school. However, the only option for online students at the time was CHM 114. I wasn’t really sure what this class was supposed to be at first. It turns out CHM 114 is for chemistry I and II what precaluculus is for college algebra and trigonometry. ASU has affectively crammed all of chemistry I and most of chemistry II into a single 7 ½ week class. This was by far the worse experience I have had at ASU to date. Granted I didn’t care for chemistry I a few years back the first time around, and it hasn’t got any better. There is a lot of material to cover in a very short amount of time. I would highly recommend anyone interested in taking this class to do a fair bit of review for chemistry prior to starting.
The lab component for this class was conducted through the www.latenitelabs.com website. I was surprised at how good the virtual environment was and didn’t mind it at all. Beyond the lab website, we again used a Pearson Vue site called Mastering Chemistry. All of our weekly homework assignments were completed in Mastering Chemistry. Not a bad interface and there were a lot of resources available through the Mastering Chemistry website. Even though I personally had a tough time with this class, the lecture material was above average and the labs were relevant; overall it wasn’t a bad class.
Calculus III was an interesting class and makes you look at math in a completely different way. We again used the Webwork framework for weekly assignments as well as tests. I never really did find any additional videos for this level of math, but also found the provided lecture content from ASU enough to get by. For each of the math classes up to this point my grade was based on 20 to 25% homework and usually three test each ranging between 10 and 30 % (including the final). The math classes are also the only classes that required the midterm to be proctored using the ProctorU service. The rest of my classes only required the final to be proctored.
Physics was a great class and very interesting. I found the video lectures to be well put together and on target to what we needed to learn. This class also used the Pearson Vue site called Mastering Physics. We had weekly homework assignments, a weekly quiz, and a weekly test. All assignments, to include the final, were administered through the Mastering Physics site. The way the lab was treated in physics was more in line with what I had seen in other schools. We had a different instructor and the grade was recorded as a separate letter grade. The lab component was accomplished using the http://virtuallabs.ket.org/physics/apparatus/ website. We would take measurements using the KET site and then analyze the data using Logger Pro software. There was one lab assignment a week, the lowest grade being dropped. I could normally get a lab done in around 6 or 7 hours.
Last but not least was modern differential equations. I found this class to be on par with calculus III in terms of complexity. I will never look at math the same way again, that is for sure. We had a new professor to the school for this course and so a few of the normal routines had been change around a bit. We still used the Webwork framework for weekly assignments and tests, and the standard departmental video lectures were made available. However, this instructor also used Adobe Connect to offer live lecture sessions at specific times. The live sessions basically consisted of the professor sharing her desktop screen and providing a verbal/visual walkthrough of the material. The students could interact with the professor and other students using a live chat session. I don’t believe many or any of the other professors are using this method to teach their classes, but the trend may catch on in the future. Attendance during the live sessions wasn’t mandatory and there was always a recording that could be reviewed at a later time.
A quick word regarding ProctorU. At first I was using the cheapest web cam I could pick up. This eventually became a problem because the minimum focusing distance didn’t allow the camera to focus on my ID when it was held up closely. There was a couple instances where the proctor wasn’t going to allow me to take my test because of this problem. I ended up buying another camera that allowed for a much closer minimum focusing distance. My experience with ProctorU overall has been very positive. Signing up for test was never a problem, and they were always easy to deal with once in a live session. You can visit their website (www.proctoru.com) to view an overview video of their process. Something to keep in mind is that you aren’t taking the test through ProctorU; they are simply monitoring you taking test through a provided ASU class site. A typical test may go something like this:
1. In one browser tab, login into ProctorU and establish a live session. This session includes audio, video, and remote desktop viewing.
2. You will use the camera to scan your workspace and provide a 360 degree view of the room you are in.
3. Once the proctor has verified your identity and instructions for the exam have been given, you are instructed to log into your school’s test site using a second browser tab.
4. The professor will provide ProctorU with the required password to enter the test site.
5. During the test, there is no interaction with the proctor. They just watch and listen to you during the exam. If you want or need to talk to the proctor, you have a chat window available.
6. At the end of the test, the proctor will want to watch you log out of the exam site.
7. Once you exit the video page, established earlier with the proctor, the remote session ends and you are done.
My first semester may have been fairly easy, but the more advanced math and science classes ultimately gave me a run for my money. I easily spent a few hours a night almost every night of the week to keep up with a full course load (two classes at a time). The chemistry and physics classes were far more demanding then I initially planned for.
A year into classes I am still happy with my choice to attend this program, and would recommend it to anyone interested in getting an Electrical Engineering degree. I am finding that the course content and rigor is on par with the more traditional class environment. At least based on discussions with my brother who is attending similar classes through an evening program at The Citadel. Next semester I am looking at finishing up Physics II and III. If I’m lucky I can squeeze in a Circuits I class as well.