Surveying Education — Distance Learning

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In the early 1990s, the administrators at the Metropolitan State College of Denver (MSCD) decided that the surveying program in the Department of Civil Engineering Technology should be terminated. After the current group of students in the surveying program had completed their academic studies, the program would close. Then, the only surveying courses to be taught on the campus would be those courses required for the civil engineering technology program. In 1995, the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado (PLSC) formed a task committee to study the feasibility of retaining the surveying program at MSCD, because PLSC understood that if the four-year surveying program ceased, it would be almost impossible to institute a viable four-year program elsewhere in Colorado. The leadership of PLSC formed a task committee to investigate every aspect of the problem.

The task committee was comprised of PLSC members from the Denver metropolitan area. Committee members included professional land surveyors from the Bureau of Land Management, Federal Highway Administration, Colorado Department of Transportation, City and County of Denver, county surveyors, private consulting firms, and students. The committee’s agenda of topics included: student recruitment; revised/updated curricula; financial support; college credit transfer agreements; and student scholarships and financial assistance.

The task committee met at least once a month through 1995 and the first half of 1996, and prepared a draft curriculum of thirty-nine surveying courses. The student would not complete all these courses, but would complete a group of required courses (core courses) and would select technical electives.

In the summer of 1996, a search was initiated for a second faculty member, and I was interviewed, recommended, and hired. The ultimate goal of the Surveying and Mapping Program (SMP) was ABET accreditation and providing quality surveying education available to students at distant or remote sites.

At the August 1996 meeting of the SMP’s Industrial Advisory Committee, plans were finalized to offer the course SUR 4540–Boundary Law II through distance learning. MSCD is one of three academic institutions co-located on a single campus, known as the Auraria Campus (or Auraria Higher Education Center), near downtown Denver. The other co-located academic institutions are the University of Colorado at Denver and the Community College of Denver. The three institutions share common services (i.e., child care center; conference facilities; facilities management; classrooms; library; bookstore; parking/transportation and security; media center; buildings; etc.). The Auraria Media Center contains state-of-the-art broadcast facilities; studio-broadcast classrooms; sound stages; editing facilities; etc. It was in one of the studio-broadcast classrooms that the first course was delivered. On-campus students attended the lectures in the Media Center studio classroom. Originally, the plan was to broadcast the lectures through land lines to remote classrooms across the State of Colorado. At that time, there was a series of networks operating independently across the state. If the remote classroom was not part of the same network as the Auraria Media Center, a "cross-over" link (called a bridge) had to be initialized. These bridges were manually operated and had to be scheduled for evening broadcasts. Initial scheduling indicated that it might be difficult to have all the personnel available. Therefore, it was decided that all sessions would be videotaped. After three semesters of logistical problems of providing live broadcasts to remote sites, the procedure was terminated, and all future courses would be video recorded.

The second course to be broadcast was SUR 3540–Boundary Law I. Each session was conducted for approximately two and one-half hours once a week. The reference for the lectures was the fourth edition of Brown’s Boundary Control and Legal Principles by Curtis M. Brown, Walter G. Robillard, and Donald A. Wilson. The material in Brown, Robillard, and Wilson was supplemented with articles from professional journals and other professional books. During the 1997-1998 era of videotaping, two pairs of two seventy-five-minute master tapes were made during each session. The next day, additional tapes were copied from the master tapes and shipped to the off-campus students. As the Media Center expanded its facilities, it was possible to record not only the master tapes during the lecture, but a supply of copies for distribution.

Between 1996 and 2001, thirteen courses were video-recorded with only one of the original courses not being taped before a live audience. During this period, the procedures for course preparation, presentation/delivery, and distribution were refined. By 2002, the Auraria Media Center had updated its facilities to utilize DVD technology, and the SMP initiated a program of systematically re-recording the previously recorded courses utilizing the new technology.

Producing a Course
The procedure for producing an entire course through distance learning has been developed based upon the experience gained in the earlier endeavors. The initial step is to obtain institutional approval for the course. The course approval requires research, preparation, and approval of the course syllabus. This administrative document contains: (1) official course description, which is published in the academic catalogue; (2) minimum acceptable academic course requirements; (3) prerequisite academic course work; (4) the desired course objectives/accomplishments for the student; (5) subject matter outline (course outline); (6) types of evaluation criteria for student performance appraisal (i.e., assignments, examinations, and grading); and (7) the academic institution’s administrative items (i.e., course type: lecture, recitation, laboratory, studio, etc.; contact hours; and other miscellaneous matters). The course syllabus does not address the mode of delivery (i.e., live classroom, distance learning, online, etc.). Once the course syllabus is authored, it must be submitted to an intensive review process. At MSCD, the syllabus is submitted to a series of committees and individuals for approval, which starts with the academic department’s curriculum committee, and proceeds through the chairman of the department, the school’s curriculum committee, the dean of the school, the institution’s faculty senate curriculum committee, the Office of Academic Affairs, the institution’s president, and in some cases the Board of Trustees. The approval process requires several months.

When the course syllabus has been approved, then course preparation can proceed. The audience determines how the course material is presented. Eight audience types have been identified, including (1) traditional student 17-25 years of age; (2) single parent; (3) non-traditional, employed full time; (4) non-traditional career/goal change; (5) re-education/training; (6) currently employed professional; (7) senior citizen; and (8) intellectually curious.

The next item of business is to address the issue of assignments/homework. In the traditional classroom, assigned homework is an acceptable/productive approach to monitor students’ efforts. Many students in the nontraditional environment view homework as "make work" and fail to understand the role the effort plays in developing the student’s ability to comprehend the academic exercise’s tenets.

The other matter which must be addressed is the evaluation procedure to be employed. In the traditional classroom, hourly, mid-term, and final examinations are employed. These examinations or tests usually consist of academic problems
. While examinations are the accepted standard of evaluation, the actual program of administration for the remote student had to be developed. These examinations would demonstrate a transfer of knowledge and development of analytical and reasoning skills to apply this knowledge to "real world" problems. At the MSCD, the academic questions have been replaced by professional practice related questions/problems.

Attention is then turned to preparing the lectures. The first step in the production process is to write a detailed course outline. The course outline prepared for the syllabus approval process is the "level 1" of the outline used to prepare the course lectures. This course outline must be expanded to identify more details required for the lecture. When the outline is completed, the document will have a "level 2" and "level 3" expanded outline, with even a "level 4" occasionally being used. The outline is divided into topics (chapters). Once the outline is completed, research commences. For each of the topics, books and technical papers are collected that specifically address the subject matter. It is while collecting these references that the outline is continuously being revised, updated, and refined.

When the information has been assembled, the writing of the script/lectures notes begins. Three activities are performed simultaneously at this point: writing the script, designing the examinations, and developing the exhibits. Designing examinations while writing the script ensures that the questions will have been presented/discussed in the notes and the lectures. Also, if the questions are numerical problems, then the notes and the lectures should contain examples which illustrate the principles. The exhibits illustrate and support the comments presented in the lectures. These exhibits may be demonstrations of operating an instrument, a drawing/graph/map, or computing a numerical example. Usually the exhibits are prepared first in order to properly incorporate the materials into the text.

The textual format of the script is a personal preference. At MSCD, the "outline-bullet" with adequate narrative is employed. Word processing is invaluable in the manuscript preparation, as the document undergoes continual revision. Frequently, changes are incorporated up to the time of video recording. When teaching in the classroom, students have the opportunity "ask questions" and "seek clarifications." Since the instructor now does not have a "live" student audience present while recording the script, the writer must attempt to address potential questions and clarify salient points. It is probably the most difficult aspect of preparing manuscripts for the video lectures. This is demonstrated in the two courses which have been digitally recorded. The lecture notes/ script for the videotaped version of SUR 3540–Boundary Law I were approximately 260 pages. In the DVD version, the number of pages expanded to more than 430! The original version of SUR 2530–Route Surveying was a compilation of hand-written notes and exhibits. The revised version incorporated ninetyseven pages on combined circular curves and 68 pages on transition spirals. In the transition spiral chapter, material was developed on fixed width rights of-way for spirals and the intersection of spirals with straight lines employing coordinate geometry.

The material incorporated in each chapter becomes the technical material of the lecture. If additional information might assist the student, but is not incorporated in the video recording, then chapter appendices are added to the chapter. Therefore, each chapter and its associated appendices address a singe topic.

Video Production
Once the examinations, exhibits, lecture notes/scripts have been prepared, recording the course/lectures commences. At MSCD, there have been two approaches to video recording the lectures. One approach is to record the sessions as a movie is filmed (motion-voice). The second approach is to use only photographs and non moving/action exhibits (passive-voice). When using the first approach, tremendous amounts of digital data are captured and stored, while in the latter procedure the amount of digital data is relatively small. The expanded version of Boundary Law I employed the passive-voice technique. More than 27 hours of lectures are recorded on a single DVD. In the motion-voice DVD lectures, several DVDs are required for the same time frame. The choice of recording does not affect the preparation of the lecture notes/script, examinations, and exhibits.

The Auraria Media Center has the technology to produce either type of lecture. When using the motion-voice approach, the lectures are now recorded on a sound stage. The instructor sits or stands behind a podium. Adjacent to the instructor is an overhead camera projector, which is used to film the exhibits as the lecture is recorded. The instructor can also write on the paper exhibits while lecturing and the actions are captured digitally. A large monitor is placed in front of and off to one side of the podium just out of view of the camera. The lecturer can observe what the cameras are recording. If there is a problem with the presentation, the production is stopped, backed up, and re-recorded. This does not occur frequently. When using the passive-voice approach, the lectures are recorded in a soundproof broadcast booth. This booth is approximately six by six feet square and eight feet high. The booth is specially constructed to eliminate outside sound/noise. The interior of the booth contains lights, a shelf, and a stool. The speaker communicates with the recording engineer through a microphone and a head set. After the lecture has been digitally recorded, the editing personnel combine the exhibits, photographs, and the audio into a single entity. This approach requires completing the final version of the script, which has been carefully edited for insertion of the various exhibits. Since both procedures employ digital data, corrections and deletions can be done without degrading the quality of the lectures.

The production of the video lectures is the final effort of the instructor. Many believe that the video recording is the major part of the production. However, video recording is a relatively small part of the production effort. Experience has shown that for every hour of video produced, there are nearly thirty hours of preparation.

Administrative Effort
Once a course has been recorded and the final video has been edited, the instructor’s efforts are completed. The remainder of the effort is administrative. A staff of individuals market, distribute, and provide the support functions of administering examinations. A perspective student contacts the administrative staff, applies for admission to MSCD, and receives assistance in enrolling in a course. The staff answer questions concerning enrollment, degree/non-degree requirements, course materials, tuition and fees, assignments, and examinations. When asked detailed questions about transfer credit, academic degree requirements, academic advising, etc., the students are referred to the Head of the Surveying and Mapping Program. Distance learning students receive the same advising effort as provided to traditional students. The administration of distance learning programs requires the same level of effort as is required for traditional education programs on the campus.

The preparation and offering of distance learning courses is a labor intensive endeavor. From the standpoint of an instructor who has presented live classroom presentations, probably the most difficult aspect of offering these courses is not having interaction between the instructor and students. The instructor must accept the responsibility that every effort has been made to produce a professional and reliable educational product. In my opinion, the underlying principle for a successful distance learning cou
rse is: Know your subject matter!

Dr. Stoughton is head of the Surveying and Mapping Program of Metropolitan State College of Denver’s Department of Industrial Design.

A 1.510Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE