USC class piloting new teaching technique

Most students have to go overseas for the chance to share a classroom with students from an international university, but a select group of USC students will have the opportunity to do so from Los Angeles.

A hand-selected class of 12 undergraduate students from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and Marshall School of Business are pioneers in a new, innovative approach to videoconferencing technology.

Using technology known as the i-Podium, the Principle and Practice of Global Innovation Teams class shares lectures with students from Peking University in Beijing on a biweekly basis.

“The ‘i’ in i-Podium stands for international, innovative, interactive, immersive, integrated, interchange, infusion and the combination of all the above,” said  Stephen Lu, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and Viterbi’s David Packard endowed chair.

Lu, who is pioneering the pilot program, emphasized that the technology is not particularly innovative, but its use is groundbreaking.

“It’s not about the technology but the way they let us use it,” Lu said. “It speeds up the scale of delivery.”

This is the first year USC has partnered with PKU to offer this new strategy, branching off of the Distance Education Network. Lu lectures for his stand-in class at USC while a monitor projects the same lecture to his other classroom at PKU.

The PKU students are also projected onto a screen in Lu’s classroom. Lu is then able to lecture and teach his class while being able to answer the questions of all of the students, even the ones raising their hands in China.

The collaborating screens at both campuses enable the students to engage in group projects, discussions and communicate with absolute synchronization.

The students from USC and PKU discuss issues facing the respective campuses and compare problem-solving techniques. Right now, they are developing a case study focused on observing and improving campus life.

Students compare differences in the problems cultures face and collaborate to find solutions.

“We’re working case studies in order to improve the respective campuses by sharing ideas and identifying problems and providing solutions,” said Craig Western, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and a student in Lu’s class.

Many students said the class helps provide global context.

Jin Oh, a sophomore majoring in business administration and a member of Lu’s class, said the interaction of the two groups of students can help to change “the way they view the world; looking at things differently they become innovative.”

The i-Podium is still in its initial stages but it could be expanded in the future.

Kelly Goulis, associate dean of Master’s and Professional Programs at Viterbi, said the program could branch out to other schools at USC if the pilot program is successful.

“If the experience is positive and enriching for students, there soon may be multiple courses to adapt a global curriculum,” she said.

Marshall and Viterbi will evaluate the success of this spring’s class in deciding whether or not to offer the class in the fall.

Many other departments have expressed interest in the program.

If successful, i-Podium could eventually extend to other universities across the nation.