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Building an Effective Online Thermodynamics Course for Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids and Heat Transfer I

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Dazhi Yang Boise State University

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Dazhi Yang is an Associate Professor in the Educational Technology Department at Boise State University. Her research lies at the intersection of STEM education and technology supported learning. Her current research focuses on integrating computational thinking in STEM education, instructional strategies and online course design for STEM; instructional strategies for teaching difficult and complex science and engineering concepts. Dr. Yang teaches classes in quantitative and qualitative research methods, project-based learning, and theoretical foundations of education technology.

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Krishna Pakala Boise State University

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Krishna Pakala, Ph.D., is an Clinical Assistant Professor at Boise State University, Idaho. His academic research interests include innovative teaching and learning strategies, use of emerging technologies, and mobile teaching and learning strategies.

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Building an effective online thermodynamics course for undergraduate engineering students


Online learning does not appear to be the common option when approaching some core engineering courses. However, the growing need for online engineering courses necessitates the development of online courses that can allow for the flexibility and convenience these distance learning experiences can offer, which also can help broaden the participation in engineering education. Thermodynamics is among the most difficult engineering subjects to teach, 1, 2 especially online, where instructors are unable to demonstrate the overwhelming number of equations and applications as they would in face-to-face lectures. 3,4. This paper describes the design and development of an undergraduate online thermodynamics class. It also reports the students’ learning experience with thermodynamics in an online environment, students’ feedback on the online course, and students’ responses to what worked and what didn’t work in this particular online course.

Data Collection

An online survey consisting of demographic questions as well as open-ended questions was administered to all students in two online thermodynamics classes in summer 2015 and 2016 respectively. The classes were taught by the same instructor. The study collected both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data include students’ survey responses on demographic background, years of experiences in online learning, number of online courses taken, etc. Qualitative data include online course design and implementation factors and strategies contributing to student success in the course, as well as student satisfaction, and perspectives on the ease of online versus face-to-face courses. Students’ feedback and comments on the course design and structure were also solicited in the survey.


This course was the first online engineering course for most of the participants. All participants (N=24) responded positively about their learning experience in their online thermodynamics class. Most participants would be willing to take another online engineering course. The most important factors contributing to students’ learning were the face-to-face meetings with the learning assistant (LA) and the instructor, the incorporation of multimedia presentations of course materials, and time management skills.

The study provides a discipline–based example that is beneficial for online instructors. 5 It also provides insights regarding effective online pedagogy for teaching tough engineering subjects like thermodynamics.


1. Hall, S., Amelink, C.T., Conn, S. S. 2010, A case study of a thermodynamics course: Informing online course design, Journal of Online Engineering Education, Vol. 1, No. 2, Available from: 2. Reardon, F. (2001, June), Developing problem-solving skills in thermodynamics courses, Paper presented at the 2001 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

3. Bowen, A. S., Reid, D. R. Koretsky, M. (2014, June), Development of interactive virtual laboratories to help students learn difficult concepts in thermodynamics, Paper presented at the 2014 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Vancouver, Indianapolis, Indiana. 4. Lopez, W. G. (2011, June), Work in progress: distance teaching of thermodynamics with Adobe Connect and dedicated engineering software. Paper presented at the 2011 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

5. Yang, D., Richardson, J. (2006), A model for generating discipline-based guidelines for developing and delivering online courses. World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education. Vol. 2006. No. 1. 2006.

Yang, D., & Pakala, K. (2017, June), Building an Effective Online Thermodynamics Course for Undergraduate Engineering Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27984

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