Sharing Courseware Resources through the NEEDS (National Engineering Education Delivery System) Database

Session Chair:
Alice M. Agogino, Director, Synthesis Coalition
University of California, Berkeley

Panel Participants:
Brandon Muramatsu, NEEDS Project Manager

Pamela A. Eibeck, NEEDS Co-editor
Northern Arizona University

Martin Ramirez, NEEDS Co-editor
University of Detroit, Mercy and Greenfield Coalition

Adebisi O. Oladipupo, NEEDS Associate Editor
Hampton University and Synthesis Coalition


The Synthesis Coalition and the National Engineering Education Delivery System (NEEDS) are at the forefront of courseware creation, delivery, and evaluation. NEEDS is the architecture developed by the Synthesis Coalition to enable new pedagogical models based on Internet-mediated environments for learning. The NEEDS Database provides an access mechanism for students and faculty to a diverse range of engineering educational materials. The database consists of collections of modular, digital courseware and courseware elements. The user is able to access and use courseware developed nationwide. In addition, the existing courseware and courseware elements can be adapted to local use in whole or by distilling several modules and joining them together to create a new customized module. The Synthesis Coalition has the directive of making the NEEDS database available to other NSF Undergraduate Engineering Education Coalitions and other universities.

The exchange and evaluation of courseware is a growing need nationwide. During the FIE '95 all multimedia courseware developers are invited to discuss their progress and lessons learned. The requirements for and the feasibility of making courseware available on the NEEDS database will be discussed. Database records can range from a bibliographic record with pointers to the author's FTP or WWW sites to archiving the full courseware on a NEEDS server. Critical issues facing courseware developers will be identified.

The NEEDS Editorial Board is being established to develop a comprehensive review procedure that will result in three tiers of courseware on the NEEDS database: non-reviewed, endorsed, and premier courseware. We expect that the process of reviewing the courseware on NEEDS will not only benefit the users of the NEEDS database, but it will also benefit authors by recognizing the scholarly and creative efforts that they have expended in developing effective, high quality courseware. At FIE '95, the NEEDS Editors will discuss the Editorial Board and the review procedures.

NEEDS can be reached at the following URL:

For more information contact: Brandon Muramatsu, Project Manager, National Engineering Education Delivery System (NEEDS), Synthesis Coalition, University of California, Berkeley, 3115 Etcheverry Hall #1750, Berkeley, CA 94720-1750 USA;

National Engineering Education Delivery System

The objective of the Synthesis Coalition is to improve engineering education by bringing more process-oriented engineering experiences into the classroom. We have produced computer-based instructional material that integrates the diverse analytic, design, experimental and intuitive skills that are required by a practicing engineer. This material can be readily created, transferred, and adapted to different student or campus needs utilizing the National Engineering Education Delivery System (NEEDS), an architecture designed to enable new pedagogical models based on Internet-mediated environments for learning. The courseware development is directed towards adding synthesis concepts through the curricula, with emphasis on multidisciplinary content, teamwork, hands-on experience, open-ended problem formulation and solving, and case studies of "best practices" from industry. Collections of modular, digital courseware and courseware elements highlighting Synthesis concepts and pedagogy are being cataloged with the NEEDS database in several forms. Courseware modules are designed such that interesting elements can be distilled from several modules and joined together to create new customized modules.

The NEEDS database, developed by the Synthesis Engineering Coalition, consists of two main methods of browsing its distributed database of engineering courseware and courseware elements.

(1) NEEDS Bibliographic Database, bibliographic catalog of courseware, and

(2) NINa (NEEDS Idea Navigator), a visual browsing system for exploration and retrieval of the same courseware and associated courseware elements (such as still images or video clips) in a multimedia format.

World Wide Web Access

The WWW has become a popular means of creating, displaying and navigating hypermedia documents using information servers with standard file and document formats (HTML - hypertext markup language) and a standard protocol for serving and browsing these files (HTTP - hypertext transfer protocol). The WWW version of the NEEDS database can be accessed from the Synthesis "home page" with the URL (Universal Resource Locator):

The user will see the Synthesis home page and can click on "hot links" (highlighted text which link to other documents with a mouse click) to obtain information about Synthesis and our projects and people. The user can link to the NEEDS database home page from the Synthesis home page. The NEEDS database home page can also be reached directly through URL:

Searching the NEEDS Database

The search options for the bibliographic database include a full text search over standard library headings using the WAIS (Wide Area Information Services) indexing algorithm. The result of a query will be a prioritized list of courseware, courseware elements, collections of elements and other educational material. From each catalog record, the user can download the item selected (courseware, elements, etc.) or link to an image browser of the courseware, called NINa (NEEDS Idea Navigator). In some cases the user can also link to WWW/HTML versions of the courseware.

Figure 1 - Bibliographic Database Query - Search Over "mechatronics"

NINa (NEEDS Idea Navigator) is a browsing and retrieval tool that allows users to search courseware multimedia elements (pictures, movies, screen dumps, animations) in order to get browse the courseware before downloading and to obtain the individual elements within the courseware. The multimedia elements in NINa are stored in an SQL (Structured Query Language) database with a user-friendly WWW interface which allows the user to search over keywords and element types. The user has the choice of viewing the courseware element in a tile format of thumbnail images or viewing the results with a mixture of text and thumbnail images. Either way, a click on the thumbnail downloads the courseware element to the local computer and displays the image or tries to launch the needed application program. For example if the element is a QuickTime movie, it will look for a player that will run the movie (for example, Simple Player on the Apple Macintosh, Windows and UNIX users can run QuickTime movies with proper viewers).

Figure 2 - NINa Query Results - Search Over "mechatronics"