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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

In Step and Online

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In Step and Online

Manufacturing Engineering Technology's Ann Goebel has Converted the Department's 400–Level Courses into Online Environments

by Joe Tougas '86

Ann Goebel

Ann Goebel
Manufacturing Engineering Technology

Seniors in Minnesota State Mankato's manufacturing and engineering technology courses are well aware of the term "lean manufacturing." It's one of the technologies in the industry, and something recruits are expected to understand: keep costs at a minimum, use shorter time frames and produce superior products.

Changing nearly all of the seniorlevel courses in the department into asynchronous classes does much the same thing, by immersing students in real–world industry projects without tethering them to the classroom chair.

In 2005, Ann Goebel, chair of Engineering Technology department, sought and won a $178,000 grant to refurbish the bulk of her department's 400–level courses into an online format, the first of which were offered in spring 2006. It's a move designed to free up time for seniors who find themselves straddling their studies and their first experiences in industry — a time when flexibility is crucial for their grades as well as their future.

Every senior in the program embarks on a "design project" that usually runs the entire year. The ideal project, from the faculty perspective, is done in an extended internship experience with industry. Here the student can put to the test both the hard–tech knowledge and the methodologies they've learned in school. But the excitement could hit a snag if the internship is out of town or needs the student at hours that conflict with classes. Goebel's work has made that less likely.

"Ideally, that student could pick an internship in Mankato, Owatonna, New Ulm, Albert Lea, the Twin Cities or anywhere, and only have to come to campus a minimal number of times," Goebel says. Online courses require that students meet with their instructor face–to–face once a semester. But even then, as with a student who's working with Westinghouse in Texas, that can be done via Webcam.

"Our goal would be to get them out of here with their four–year degree and one year of experience in a paid internship. And that makes them very marketable," Goebel says. "Usually, that company will then employ them, or have to compete to keep them."

Goebel, who received her master's degree in the program, teaches four classes online. When her students log on to the course site, they find a video lecture from Goebel (which she can film from her office in Trafton Science Center, or from her home); PowerPoint presentations; discussion boards; case–study industry video and a variety of other information.

"We want the course to be better than the face–to–face," she says. "It's more than taking PowerPoints and putting them online."

Being online allows Goebel to be more efficient in how she presents the content, she says, and at the same time it gives many students an opportunity for clarity.

"If I'm giving a lecture, they can replay the content over and over and over again," she says. "If we have an international student and English is not their first language and they didn't catch what I said, now they can repeat the video 100 times if they need. One of the three graduate assistants funded by the grant helped review several courses for ease of learning by students whose first language isn't English."

Dr. Patricia Lipetzky, dean of University Extended Education, through which all departments coordinate their online courses, worked with Goebel in applying for the grant. Dr. Kent Kalm of University Extended Education helped implement the technology which will help create benchmarks for other departments. University Extended Education also helps evaluate Minnesota State Mankato's online courses based on standards used by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System and MN Online, the two bodies that provided Goebel the grant. Goebel hopes to get all of the courses reviewed in the spring.

Overall, Goebel says, the online courses help any number of students in any number of situations, from personal to professional. There are the students who want to come back to the program and retool their skills, and those who might not be able to physically be on campus.

Goebel's online courses will improve constantly, she says. "They'll keep growing like any course would. Continuous improvement is what we teach in industry, so we use it in our courses."