Asee peer logo

Continuity of Instruction, Cognitive Load, and the Middle Years Slump

Download Paper |

Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

How We Tackled the Pandemic

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count

14

DOI

10.18260/1-2--36845

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/36845

Download Count

177

Request a correction

Paper Authors

biography

Mary Katherine Watson The Citadel Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0003-1718-5825

visit author page

Mary Katherine Watson is currently an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel. She holds BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University and a PhD in Environmental Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She enjoys, and has invested significantly, in the development of her undergraduate students, serving as past faculty advisor for numerous student groups. Dr. Watson is passionate about improving access to engineering education and serves as the faculty director for a scholarship program to recruit and support high-performing, low-income civil engineering students. Dr. Watson is also interested in understanding and assessing students’ cognitive processes, especially development of cognitive flexibility and interactions with cognitive load. Dr. Watson is the proud recipient of seven teaching awards and six best paper awards. She was previously named the Young Civil Engineer of the Year by the South Carolina Section of ASCE and currently serves as a Senior Associate Editor for the Journal of Civil Engineering Education.

visit author page

biography

Elise Barrella P.E. Wake Forest University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0003-0020-2035

visit author page

Dr. Elise Barrella is the founder and CEO of DfX Consulting LLC which offers engineering education and design research, planning and consulting services. She is a registered Professional Engineer and was a Founding Faculty member of the Department of Engineering at Wake Forest University. She is passionate about curriculum development, scholarship and student mentoring on transportation systems, sustainability, and engineering design. Dr. Barrella completed her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech where she conducted research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). In addition to the Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Dr. Barrella holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University. Dr. Barrella has investigated best practices in engineering education since 2003 (at Bucknell University) and began collaborating on sustainable engineering design research while at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining the WFU faculty, she led the junior capstone design sequence at James Madison University, was the inaugural director of the NAE Grand Challenges Program at JMU, and developed first-year coursework and interdisciplinary electives.

visit author page

biography

Kevin Skenes The Citadel

visit author page

Kevin Skenes is an associate professor at The Citadel. His research interests include non-destructive evaluation, photoelasticity, manufacturing processes, and engineering education.

visit author page

author page

Aidan Puzzio The Citadel

author page

Benjamin Lawrence Kicklighter The Citadel

Download Paper |

Abstract

Similar to other institutions of higher education, XXX shifted exclusively to an online modality during the Spring 2020 semester to provide continuity of instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, all engineering programs were administered solely through face-to-face instruction; thus, the mandatory transformation to online instruction represented a unique opportunity to explore the impacts of unprecedented disruption on student learning and development. We sought to examine student experiences with changing modality through the lens of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), which characterizes learning as assimilation of knowledge into one’s long-term memory. However, it is our short-term (working) memory that first processes information. If the cognitive load (or mental effort) associated with a task exceeds short-term processing capacity, then learning cannot occur. As engineering curricula are interconnected networks of classes that build on prior prerequisites, cognitive overload during continuity of instruction could have lasting impacts on student competencies. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted a study to track changes in perceived workload among students as a result of the rapid shift to online continuity of instruction. At the midterm of the Spring 2020 semester, students from mechanical, civil, and construction engineering reflected on workload experienced during their prior face-to-face engineering courses. At the end of the semester, students reflected on the workload experienced during their online engineering courses. At each survey administration, students used the NASA Task Load Index (TLX) to rate their workload on a 0-100 scale along six dimensions: mental, physical, temporal, effort, frustration, and performance. We used a mixed Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) to compare changes in workload dimensions between modalities for several demographic groups. In this paper, we will report on our findings for middle years students. Regardless of modality, middle years students reported greater workload along temporal, effort, and frustration dimensions than did freshmen and seniors. Our preliminary findings of higher perceived temporal demand, required effort, and frustration align with other researchers who have identified a “middle years slump” among many engineering students. Furthermore, we found that middle years students experienced the greatest increase in mental demand during the shift from face-to-face to online instruction. Mental demand may be indicative of cognitive load, and cognitive overload is known to hinder learning. Cognitive overload during the formative middle years when students are completing foundational engineering science courses could have lasting impacts on performance in subsequent design courses.

Watson, M. K., & Barrella, E., & Skenes, K., & Puzzio, A., & Kicklighter, B. L. (2021, July), Continuity of Instruction, Cognitive Load, and the Middle Years Slump Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36845

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015