‘At the cutting edge’

Picture of Stanislaw Żak

Purdue Online Learning, College of Engineering, leads a growing trend.

The same programs that keep Purdue’s engineering college top-ranked puts "Purdue Online Learning, College of Engineering", ("POL, CoE") at the top of the rankings, too. In fact, U.S. News & World Report listed Purdue’s online graduate engineering program fifth among 93 schools in its most recent assessment.

Stanislaw Żak is one of the more than 85 faculty and staff responsible for that status. He brings the same innovation ethic to teaching his online courses that he applies to his research as a Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering. 

“I always try to make distance learning less distant,” Żak says. As a professor whose students have described him as “accessible outside class, inspirational and caring,” Żak says he continually asks himself how he can compensate for the lack of a physical presence, and how to create a “classroom experience” when teaching online. “The technology has a very important part to play. Software that allows the online students to introduce themselves online makes a difference,” he says.

“The class discussion in the online course can often be lengthier, even more insightful.” — Żak

As a co-author of a book on optimization, Żak teaches Optimization Methods for Systems and Control, as well as three other "POL, CoE" courses. He says he appreciates the added thoughtfulness of online students’ comments and questions: “I teach the same course with exactly the same requirements both online and face-to-face. The class discussion in the online course can often be lengthier, even more insightful. When you’re face-to-face, you can say things without too much thinking. But when you have to type, you’re challenged to be clear rather than speaking impulsively.”

Żak says he understands that prospective students who haven’t tried online learning may be apprehensive about it. He supports "POL, CoE"’s new one-credit-course initiative as a means for students to sample online coursework without a major commitment. He adds that a willingness to sample online study typically leads to more — a trend he believes will grow.

“The move to online teaching seems inevitable,” Żak says. “When I participate in online teaching, I feel that I’m at the cutting edge of education. It’s challenging; it requires more time to plan, design, deliver and evaluate online instruction."

“It’s amazing how fast the students embrace this new technology. There are quite a few students who obtain their master’s degrees very quickly. There really is no limit to online education.”