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A Case Study Of A Thermodynamics Course: Informing Online Course Design

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids, and Heat Transfer-Part I

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.12.1 - 15.12.14



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Paper Authors


Simin Hall College of Engineering at Virginia Tech

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Dr. Simin Hall is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech and Polytechnic Institute. Her applied research in education is focused on cognitive processes and motivational factors in problem solving in computationally intensive courses such as engineering using online technology. Prior to joining ME at Virginia Tech, she completed a collaborative research project between the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, College of Engineering at Texas A&M, and Department of Sociology at University of Arizona. The project involved a national survey to assess contributing factors in adopting engineering education innovations by engineering departments across US.

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Catherine Amelink Virginia Tech


Sam Conn Virginia Tech

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Prior to joining Virginia Tech's Institute for Distance and Distributed
Learning as Director, Sam served as Assistant Professor and Chair of the
Department of Computer Information Systems at Regis University in Denver,
Colorado from 1999 to 2008. In this position he led the university's move to
online education in graduate and undergraduate programs. Sam also served as
co-director of the online joint-degree program with the National University
of Ireland in Galway, Director of the Center for Database Research, and
Co-Director for the National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence.
Sam has worked in higher education since 1999 after completing a 23 year
career in the field of information systems and technology. Sam maintains a
publishing track in Information Systems and eLearning research.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Case Study of a Thermodynamics Course: Informing Online Course Design


Empirical data is needed to measure the effectiveness of problem based online offerings of abstract engineering courses such as thermodynamics courses. Problem solving is central to

environments offer particular advantages to learners who are inherently self-directed learners1. However, the current population taking these courses consists of traditional undergraduates who typically require and expect more structure and instruction2. Many students, particularly those with low motivation and achievement, are unwilling to do mindful work, such as executing higher level cognitive processes. Learners in the collaborative problem solving process receive feedback and comments from peers, and from the teacher on the steps of planning, implementing, and executing problem solving processes rather than only receiving feedback from the teacher on their performance. Therefore, peer pressure, as a motivating factor, may push students to perform higher level cognitive functions. In addition, social constructivism3 suggests that the exchange of critical feedback among peers as well as from the instructor can encourage students to modify their work. Research is needed that will provide insights for engineering departments in design, implementation, and evaluation of online engineering undergraduate courses, especially those that are designed to teach and improve the problem solving skills among students.

The study enhances the scholarship of online teaching and extends the state of knowledge in Human Performance Technology by contributing to the theories of computer-assisted instruction, distance education, and web-based learning applications in abstract engineering subjects. A mixed-method investigation was employed to carry out a case study of one undergraduate Mechanical Engineering course in fall 2009. The data consisted of survey results, field notes, and class observations that focused on examining how students approach problem solving, the role of instructor in facilitating problem solving, the role of peers and relates to accomplishing course work in order to better understand how to design an online version of the same course. This study reports the baseline data collected from the control group learning problem solving in thermodynamics in the traditional learning environment and discusses how the data will be used to design the online asynchronous problem-based version of the same thermodynamics course using computational and communication technologies.

1. Introduction

There are numerous reasons for online design and delivery of undergraduate engineering courses. With the limitations on facility and growth of the student enrollment, online teaching presents a viable option for institutions to ensure access to their courses. Research indicates that hypermedia learning environments offers particular advantages to adult learners who are inherently self-directed learners1. Web-based delivery allows for flexible learning environments and increases the accessibility of our engineering courses, allowing students who are traditionally unable to attend or uncomfortable attending a standard classroom environment for

Hall, S., & Amelink, C., & Conn, S. (2010, June), A Case Study Of A Thermodynamics Course: Informing Online Course Design Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15867

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