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New iPodia Course in Petroleum Engineering

by Danielle Mitrak

On Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 students from the University of Southern California (USC) and Peking University (PKU) assembled separately, but simultaneously at their respective campuses.  These students attended the first lecture of a new iPodia course: Technology of Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Development. This course is a graduate-level course taught by the USC professor, Dr. Iraj Ershaghi.

Students at PKU attend Dr. Ershaghi’s course which begins at 8:30 AM on Wednesdays and Fridays. They can see the professor, his lecture slides, and their USC classmates on screen in front of their classroom. These students hear Dr. Ershaghi’s lecture live, and, more importantly, are able to ask questions and engage into classroom discussions. Students at USC attend Dr. Ershaghi’s class in person at 5:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. USC students also see their professor, classmates, and the lecture slides in front of them. Twice weekly, this course provides an international learning experience for its students by creating a “classroom without borders”, one mission of the iPodia program.

“Technology of Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Development” is a rigorous course with two exams and a term project. The term project is completed in teams composed of students from both universities; it requires they work together. Working on an international team is challenging and this project provides students the opportunity to learn how to coordinate an international group. In the petroleum industry, this skill is particularly important as many companies have locations all over the world. Dr. Ershaghi’s course explores the geology of unconventional resources and development of technologies for accessing these unconventional oil or gas reserves.

The partnership between a university from the United States and from China is particularly valuable in a course on developing technologies for unconventional oil and resources. The U.S. Energy Information Administration listed the Top World Oil Producers for 2012 and China is fourth on the list while the U.S. is second. China also has the largest population of any county and “a fast-growing economy that has led it to be the largest energy consumer and producer in the world” (EIA). Additionally, China has a need to expand into untapped reserves to maintain and/or increase oil production, which will necessitate new technology (EIA). The U.S. and China are ranked second and third respectively of countries with technically recoverable shale oil resources by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an unconventional oil resource. Both countries face similar challenges in accessing these unconventional reserves, and learning the developing technology together benefits both student groups. Students from China will have different insights than their U.S. counterparts and vice versa. There is a great opportunity for knowledge transfer between students who face similar challenges in different regions of the world.


EIA. “China – Country Analysis Brief Overview.” Independent Statistics and Analysis. U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA, 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Sept. 2014.