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Active Learning about Structures through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Use of Technology in Civil Engineering Courses

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Vicki V. May Dartmouth College

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Vicki V. May, Ph.D., P.E. is an Associate Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on engineering education and K-12 outreach. She teaches courses in solid mechanics, structural analysis, and integrated design at Dartmouth. Prior to relocating to the east coast, Professor May was an Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

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Adrienne J Gauthier Dartmouth College

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Adrienne is an instructional designer at Dartmouth College, working primarily with the STEM departments. She focuses on active learning strategies guiding faculty in student-centered pedagogies.

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Active Learning about Structures through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

Is it possible to incorporate active learning strategies in a Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC)? Will learners complete hands-on activities proposed through a MOOC? Do active learning strategies result in higher levels of engagement and performance? Are students who were sent a set of supplies for hands-on activities more likely to participate in the activities? Are these learners more engaged? Do they perform better in the course? Does answering a set of conceptual questions and addressing a ‘problem’ encourage students to think more deeply about the material? I set out to answer these questions and more by developing and offering a MOOC focused on the behavior of structures.

Recent studies have found that student performance increases fairly significantly when active learning strategies are used. But how can we incorporate active learning into a MOOC? MOOCs are delivered to thousands of people at a time and most consist of a series of videos followed by questions.

The MOOC we developed was six weeks long and included approximately 4 hours of video clips; all of the videos were less than 10 minutes in length. As with most other MOOCs we included a set of questions after each video. These questions included multiple choice questions but also open-ended essay questions. Each of the six weeks of the course included at least one hands-on activity such as designing and building a cable-stayed bridge, a tensegrity structure, and a cardboard chair. We also developed and included six simulations to allow students to experiment with structures virtually. Students were asked a set of guiding questions to help them experiment using the simulations. In addition, students were presented with a ‘problem’ and set of inquiry-based questions at the beginning of each week to encourage them to start thinking about the material using an inquiry-based approach.

The course was offered in the spring of 2015 and was targeted high school students and beginning undergraduates, with the goal of exposing these students to the engineering of structures. Over 10,000 students enrolled in the course. While the goal of some students was to simply watch a few videos, many students posted images of structures in their communities and structures they had built for the course.

We are still processing the large amounts of data from the course but have found that students who completed hands-on activities and virtual simulations performed better in the course and were more engaged, as measured by the amount of time they spent online and the number of course activities they completed. Students who received an activity kits (activity kits were sent to 500 students) were more likely to complete the hands-on activities than those who did not receive an activity kit. We plan to re-run the MOOC in the summer of 2016 with the goal of reaching more students and collecting more data related to active and inquiry-based learning. Possible Session: Use of Technology in Engineering Courses

May, V. V., & Gauthier, A. J. (2016, June), Active Learning about Structures through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26511

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