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Student Perceptions and Performance with Online Instruction of Sustainability During COVID-19 Response

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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

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 3: Teaching Environmental Engineering in the COVID-19 Era

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Shannon L. Isovitsch Parks P.E. University of Pittsburgh

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Dr. Shannon Parks is a registered Professional Engineer with 20+ years of broad-based experience in the water resources and environmental engineering fields. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Science and doctoral degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. She has been teaching water resources and environmental engineering at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown since 2016. Prior to joining University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Dr. Parks’ worked for over seven years at the Alcoa Technical Center focusing on development and commercialization of sustainable wastewater treatment and solid waste reuse technologies. She also served as a member of the Alcoa Foundation Board of Directors, providing environmental expertise to support the Foundation’s focus areas of Environment, Empowerment, and Education, as well as her experience with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for women. Prior to joining Alcoa, Dr. Parks worked for approximately seven years as a consultant to government agencies, municipalities, and industrial clients performing water resources engineering design and permitting. In addition to her corporate experience, Dr. Parks served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, supporting a local Non-Governmental Organization on water sanitation projects.

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Higher education in an online learning environment has been shown to be effective and appreciated by students. However, it does have limitations and requires several weeks of preparation prior to the start of class. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, most institutions around the world were forced to move to an online learning environment within a week with many faculty and students having no experience with this environment. Further, while students may appreciate an online learning environment when they choose it, perceptions of learning can change drastically when forced to an online environment mid-semester. The purpose of this paper is to analyze student perceptions and performance in the online learning environment for an undergraduate engineering course in sustainability in the Spring of 2020, where the instructor had no prior experience nor training in teaching an online class. Student surveys were administered in the first week of the change from in-person to online instruction as well as in the last week of instruction. The surveys were analyzed to determine if students thought the online instruction would be as effective as the in-person instruction, and then if students thought the online instruction was as effective as the in-person instruction. Grades were also compared to determine if students performed as well during the online instruction compared to the in-person instruction. Results indicate that overall students in this class felt that learning outcomes were achieved to the same degree as with an in-person learning environment. Also, no significant difference was seen in grades between material taught in an in-person or an online learning environment for this class. The learnings from this study could help in understanding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education as well as gaining some insight on when in-person learning should be prioritized.

Parks, S. L. I. (2021, July), Student Perceptions and Performance with Online Instruction of Sustainability During COVID-19 Response Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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