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An Evolving Face-to-Face Freshman Experience Course During a Pandemic

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Supporting Successful Progression From First-year Studies

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Allen C. Estes California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Allen C. Estes is a Professor and Head for the Architectural Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Until January 2007, Dr. Estes was the Director of the Civil Engineering Program at the United States Military Academy (USMA). He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia. Al Estes received a B.S. degree from USMA in1978, M.S. degrees in StructuralEngineering and in Construction Management from Stanford University in 1987 and a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997.

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John W. Lawson California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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John Lawson is a Full Professor in Architectural Engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he primarily teaches structural design courses to undergraduates. He obtained his Bachelors of Science in Architectural Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and his Masters of Science in Structural Engineering from Stanford University. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and Structural Engineer in California and Arizona with over 25 years of design experience.

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With the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the United States in March 2020, almost all colleges and universities went exclusively to virtual on-line instruction during the spring semesters and quarters. In the fall, according to the College Crisis Initiative study at Davidson College of 3000 schools, as colleges opened back up 4% were fully in person, 23% primarily in person, 21% were hybrid, 34% primarily on line, 10% fully on line and 8% either undetermined or other. Some colleges selectively reopened specific classes for face-to-face instruction with varying degrees of success and some had to quick shut down again. Many of these courses were upper division laboratory or activity classes. There were fewer which opened such courses for incoming freshman classes.

This paper covers the opening of a hybrid face-to-face freshman experience course in the Fall 2020 quarter. The course features a virtual lecture each week and ten separate hands-on activities that required different modes of instruction and involved different social distancing protocols. Furthermore, the course was required to provide virtual accommodation for those students who chose not to return to campus. For some activities, the students away from campus could participate fully in the activities while for others, they were only able to watch the face-to-face students perform the activity while still completing the assignment. A few activities lent themselves to be conducted virtually for everyone. For others, the best solution was a synchronous Zoom session where it was broadcast on the screen for those in the classroom and used a participant’s smartphone to capture the activity being conducted live. For other activities, an asynchronous solution provided a richer experience for the students using PowerPointShow, video footages and Screencast-O-Matic editing. The activities included arches and catenaries, concrete anchor bolts, timber connections, welding and testing steel, creating and testing trusses in the digital fabrication lab, drainage patterns, failure case studies, wiring electrical circuits, a design-bid-build competition using K’nex pieces, and ethics and professionalism.

This paper describes the challenges and risks of conducting this course during a pandemic, covers the solutions implemented for all of the activities, and provides assessment data on what worked and what can be improved in the future. With the reopening of college campuses just beginning, other engineering programs with freshman experience courses would certainly benefit from these lessons learned.

Estes, A. C., & Lawson, J. W. (2021, July), An Evolving Face-to-Face Freshman Experience Course During a Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36667

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