Bernd Girod Named to Lead Online Learning at Stanford Engineering

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The professor of electrical engineering has been a pioneer of streaming video and online education technologies for two decades. The position is new to the School of Engineering and is seen as a clear acknowledgement that online education has come of age.

Bernd Girod, a professor of electrical engineering and (by courtesy) computer science and a key figure in the type of multimedia technology that has revolutionized online education, has been named to the new position of Senior Associate Dean for Online Learning and Professional Development in the School of Engineering, Dean James D. Plummer announced today.

Girod will be responsible for setting and executing a broad-based strategy for using emerging online learning technologies to reshape engineering education, said Plummer. He will work closely with John Mitchell, the Mary and Gordon Crary Family Professor in the School of Engineering and newly appointed Vice Provost for Online Learning. Girod will report to the dean.

“Bernd’s appointment recognizes the rapidly growing importance of online learning in engineering education,” Plummer said.

Bernd Girod named to lead online learning at Stanford Engineering
Electrical Engineering Professor Bernd Girod. Photo: L.A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Inflection Point

The creation of a new position in the dean’s office comes at a major crossroad in higher education in which a growing number of universities are offering free classes online that are open to anyone who wishes to sign up.  [See related story on Stanford's appointment of a new  Vice Provost for Online for Online Education.]

The current wave of these “massive open online courses”—or MOOCs, for short—began last fall when Stanford Engineering offered three of its computer science courses online for free. The classes were widely popular, attracting hundreds of thousands of people, despite the fact that participants would earn no degree or certificate, only a letter stating that they had completed the course.

Other U.S. universities followed and Stanford expanded its course offerings, adding new classes in the spring and summer sessions.

Since 1969, Stanford Engineering—through the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD)—has been an award-winning leader in distance education, and today offers more than 250 graduate engineering courses online for academic credit as well as free online video content. The broad portfolio includes professional certificates in engineering and management, as well as executive programs in leadership and innovation delivered online, at Stanford, at U.S. and international work sites and in blended modalities. 

Online Education Opportunities 

Despite the ability of online education to stretch the boundaries of campus, one audience Girod will address more directly through online technology are Stanford’s residential students. “I think there’s a great opportunity to use these technologies to improve the educational experience for students on campus at Stanford as well as off,” he said.

The second focus of Girod’s efforts will be the ongoing, lifelong education of engineers—the perpetual process of keeping engineers’ skills up to date in a rapidly changing world. Such professional courses are the fastest growing segment among SCPD’s offerings. Modern online learning technologies present an opportunity to continue that growth without compromising quality. 

“At Stanford, we prepare engineers for a lifetime of learning because most of today’s technologies only have a three-to-five-year half-life,” asserts Plummer. “Fields are changing rapidly and engineers will need to stay current with their knowledge and their skills. This is an area of opportunity for us.”

With the public enthusiasm for and media attention on the free online courses, it was clear that an institution of Stanford’s stature was going to be a key player in the burgeoning future of online education. The Dean sees a third way between the admissions-only, degree-granting programs like SCPD and the freely available MOOCs.

“The MOOCs have ignited a larger debate about the mission of higher education in the United States,” said Girod. “We believe Stanford can lead while maintaining the standards of excellence we have set for ourselves and our profession, and still deliver a Stanford-quality education to many more people than ever before possible.”

“Online education is not new to Stanford engineering; we’ve been doing it for decades. Bernd’s appointment signals a renewed focus for us. This is an evolution for us, not a revolution,” said Dean Plummer.

Veteran leader

Bernd Girod is a longtime engineering professor whose research has led to seminal contributions in video compression and communication, networked media systems, and most recently, image and video search. He has authored or co-authored one major textbook, five monographs, and some 500 journal articles and conference papers.

Girod has been a pioneer of video streaming technology and, notably, was a co-founder and chief scientist of Vivo Software Inc., from 1992 to 1998. The company built the first successful Internet video streaming platform. Girod became chief scientist at RealNetworks after it acquired Vivo in 1998.

More recently, Girod’s students developed ClassX, an experimental open-source software that has been used for online delivery of over 25 Stanford classes, plus numerous workshops, events and seminars. He was also tapped to lead the new David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford and Columbia through its launch phase and will continue to serve as the Stanford director of the institute.

“Bernd is supremely capable to lead Stanford Engineering into the future of online education. He has been a key figure in online education technology for two decades, he serves on President Hennessy’s university-wide Advisory Committee on Technology in Higher Education and he’s well connected in Silicon Valley,” said Plummer.

“Having Bernd focused on the school’s strategy for online education going forward will be an incredible asset,” said Paul Marca, SCPD executive director. “Working together, we can leverage SCPD’s strength and experience in developing and delivering online education to serve the school’s core audiences in new ways.” 

Looking ahead

Girod said he sees e-learning as an essential ingredient of engineering education in the future. “Schools that have not kept up will be at a competitive disadvantage,” he added.

To get there, Girod said, the School of Engineering will be experimenting with online delivery technologies, which are still in their formative years, to ensure that they remain low cost, open source and easy to use. Regardless of where things lead technologically, affirmed Girod, one thing will always remain: The quality of a Stanford Engineering education. 

“The future of education is online and Bernd Girod will lead us there,” said Plummer. “He is the right person to set the course for how we’re going to deliver these courses, which courses we’ll offer, who our target audiences are going to be and how to address their needs online.”

Andrew Myers is associate director for communications for the Stanford University School of Education.

Last modified Fri, 19 Oct, 2012 at 16:14