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Building a Sense of Community in a Multidisciplinary, Split-level Online Project-based Innovation Design Course

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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

Impact of COVID-19 on Design Education 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Melissa Mae White University of Florida

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Dr. Melissa Mae White develops and instructs course curriculum in Engineering Innovation and Engineering Entrepreneurship to the students in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida. She works with faculty and students to build an ecosystem focusing on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship across campus and in the community.

She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Anthropology from the University of Miami. After her undergraduate studies, she completed her Master of Science degree in Engineering, Science, Technology, and Entrepreneurship from the University of Notre Dame. She earned her doctorate in Industrial Engineering with a specialty in human systems engineering and a certificate health systems engineering from North Carolina State University. Prior to joining UF, Dr. White helped co-found the non-profit the Medical Innovators Collaborative (MEDIC), whose goal was to create an environment where students across the universities in the Research Triangle can collaborate with clinicians and industry partners to foster medical innovations. In addition to serving as faculty at the University of Florida, she is on the board of a local non-profit that focuses on supporting the growth of the innovation ecosystem in Greater Gainesville.

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Megan Stowers University of Florida

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Megan is an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering. She is researching educational approaches to promote community in online classes and to promote innovation culture across a college campus. Her interests include human factors, innovation, and engineering education.

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In March of 2020, faculty across the nation had to adapt their teaching methodologies due to the COVID 19 pandemic as universities across the country suspended face-to-face classes. This involved short-term solutions to complete the spring semester such as switching in-person lectures to synchronous lectures utilizing a university purchased platform. During the summer of 2020, many schools and courses saw record enrollment. Instructors were tasked with transitioning the once face-to-face class into a complete online environment of educational equivalence for the entirety of the course (unlike the partial transition during the spring semester). Most faculty are not trained in the pedagogical content knowledge related to designing, organizing, and maintaining an online course environment, yet were tasked with developing their summer courses in a short period of time. In addition to these sudden educational delivery changes, research findings indicate that supportive interventions to reduce loneliness should prioritize younger individuals during the COVID 19 pandemic [1]. This paper reviews the successful online transition of an in-person engineering innovation course that utilizes project based educational methods to an online environment during the summer of 2020 and the subsequent fall semester. In total, 174 undergraduate and graduate multidisciplinary engineering students completed this course in the new online format during the summer and 131 students took the course in the fall semester of 2020. Various methods were used to create a diverse and engaging learning experience for the students, while simultaneously creating a sense of community during a period of loneliness for many of the students. Anecdotal student feedback noted that the sense of community the course encouraged was one of the best aspects of the course. Two main ways the instructor helped to build this element of community was through the user experience and through course assignments.

Groarke, J. M., Berry, E., Graham-Wisener, L., McKenna-Plumley, P. E., McGlinchey, E., & Armour, C. (2020). Loneliness in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: Cross-sectional results from the COVID-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study. PloS one, 15(9), e0239698.

White, M. M., & Stowers, M. (2021, July), Building a Sense of Community in a Multidisciplinary, Split-level Online Project-based Innovation Design Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36763

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