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Lessons Learned From a Covid-impacted Capstone

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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

Biological and Agricultural Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Biological and Agricultural Engineering

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Paper Authors


Alicia A. Modenbach P.E. University of Kentucky

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Alicia A. Modenbach is a Lecturer in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Kentucky. She completed her bachelor's degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Louisiana State University in 2006, before pursuing her graduate education at the University of Kentucky, completing her MS in 2008 and her PhD in 2013. She teaches an introductory sophomore course and senior design, as well as serves as an academic advisor to students in the Biosystems Engineering program.

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Michael "Mick" Peterson University of Kentucky

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Michael "Mick" Peterson is a Professor in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department and Director of the Racetrack Safety Program at the University of Kentucky. He completed his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at what is now Kettering University in 1985, and an MS in 1987 and a PhD in 1993 in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Northwestern University. He teaches senior design and works with monitoring and testing of racing surfaces for the Thoroughbred racing industry.

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This paper is an evidence-based practice complete work that details positive and negative elements resulting from the sudden transition to emergency remote instruction and learning for a [program name] capstone course, as well as defines how these experiences have shaped the decision making for the upcoming offering. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the overnight transition from an in-person capstone course to a fully remote capstone course in March 2020 required instructors to think creatively about the capstone experience and how the core learning objectives could be met in the presence of a new set of constraints. The continued restrictions and challenges associated with in-person meetings for Fall 2020 continued to shape decision making around course design and structure. This paper addresses some of the lessons the instructors learned during the last weeks of the Spring 2020 semester, and how they are shaping the capstone experience going forward.

Reflecting on the last few weeks of the Spring 2020 semester, the instructors recognized several positive elements that emerged from the course. Students were very patient and flexible with the transition to remote instruction. Instructors were still able to provide meaningful and productive interactions with the whole group, smaller teams, and individual students using virtual meeting platforms like Zoom. Certain assignments were quickly redesigned for the new virtual platforms being used. Everyone involved learned and practiced new skillsets to continue working collaboratively in a virtual environment, and the class was more effective at including external stakeholders in the process.

However, several challenges also became apparent. The loose structure of the course, hasty adjustment of the project scope to accommodate remote work, and loss of access to information and resources had a significant impact on the students’ experiences. Final project outcomes were limited by circumstances, since the second semester is focused on fabrication and test. For some students, the experience and expectations for the more hands-on part of the project were particularly impacted. Added challenges associated with grieving the loss of a final semester, graduation ceremonies, and uncertain career prospects, and dealing with the uncertainty of the unknown added to the stress and anxiety felt by all involved.

Modifications implemented starting with the Fall 2020 capstone courses address some of the challenges experienced during the Spring 2020 semester, including adding more structure and organization to course content and communications, introducing cloud-based software programs, in particular looking at specific new CAD software, to support remote collaborations, and providing more intentional guidance for keeping students on track and organized during the design process. The possibility of returning to remote instruction mid-semester also influenced projects proposed by capstone partners.

Modenbach, A. A., & Peterson, M. M. (2021, July), Lessons Learned From a Covid-impacted Capstone Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37437

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