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Sudden Shift to Online Learning: COVID-19's Impact on Engineering Student Experiences

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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

Student Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Student

Page Count

17

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/37784

Download Count

31

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Paper Authors

biography

Nathalia De Souza California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Nathalia De Souza is a second-year Aerospace Engineering student (B.S.) at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. She obtained her A.A. in Math and Science at West Hills College, Lemoore in 2019. Nathalia currently works as a research assistant for the Cal Poly Mechanical Engineering Department and is also pursuing a minor in Ethnic Studies. Her engineering education interests include researching the gap in performance and between white students and students of color. Her professional interests include aerospace design and manufacturing as well as space policy.

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biography

Michaella Ochotorena California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Michaella Ochotorena is currently pursuing her B.S. in General Engineering with an individualized course of study in Sustainable Energy from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She has been helping to develop interactive and inquiry-based learning activities for mechanics courses. Additionally, she is working in the Cal Poly Mechanical Engineering Department researching thermal comfort and its relationship to energy usage and student success.

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Brian P. Self California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Brian Self obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Utah. He worked in the Air Force Research Laboratories before teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy for seven years. Brian has taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo since 2006. During the 2011-2012 academic year he participated in a professor exchange, teaching at the Munich University of Applied Sciences. His engineering education interests include collaborating on the Dynamics Concept Inventory, developing model-eliciting activities in mechanical engineering courses, inquiry-based learning in mechanics, and design projects to help promote adapted physical activities. Other professional interests include aviation physiology and biomechanics.

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Lauren Anne Cooper California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Lauren Cooper earned her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a research emphasis in Engineering Education from University of Colorado Boulder. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Her research interests include project-based learning, student motivation, human-centered design, and the role of empathy in engineering teaching and learning.

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Abstract

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, engineering education has faced a shift to a partial if not fully virtual environment that has disrupted students’ educational experiences. This qualitative study was designed to explore how mechanical engineering students at a large public university in California have navigated the shift to virtual learning, what pedagogical practices have been effective online, and how the change has affected students’ motivation, learning, and sense of belonging and community. In the spring of 2020, 31 mechanical engineering students were recruited to participate across seven focus groups. Four were randomly grouped, while three were exclusive affinity groups: first- and second-year students; underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students; and female-identifying students. During the 60-minute focus groups, participants were asked to maintain anonymity by turning off their cameras and by using pseudonyms. They were asked to respond to open-ended questions related to teaching strategies, workload, motivation, lab courses, technology issues, building community, academic integrity, and general improvements they wanted to see in future online classes. Summaries were created and analyzed by the two student researchers and discussed among the research team. Our findings indicate that students appreciated the effort faculty put into moving to a virtual environment with such short notice. They recognized that many instructors were unfamiliar with different technological tools and commented on the high quality of teaching. Students also appreciated professors who demonstrated efforts to “go the extra mile” by carving out time during class to joke and discuss “non-class” topics. Additionally, they appreciated professors who were flexible regarding the pandemic, civil unrest, and additional sources of stress. Overall, the quality of student-peer and student-faculty relationships made a significant difference to students. Nonetheless, the students commented that the quality of online learning could be improved. Our primary findings indicate that the key shortcomings included difficulty building community as well as decreased motivation levels and increased stress levels. Most students said the lack of social interaction during virtual classes contributed to their feelings of isolation. Consequently, students appreciated opportunities to speak with professors one-on-one, especially if they wanted to discuss personal or sensitive topics, and enjoyed the use of breakout rooms via Zoom for interacting with peers. Moreover, many students cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest at the beginning of the year as creating an intense level of stress, so they appreciated when professors would acknowledge this. Moreover, student motivation levels were affected by the perceived level of support from professors. When professors demonstrated a higher level of engagement, students would reciprocate and exhibit greater motivation. The responses also demonstrated that online learning has especially impeded engineering courses that require hands-on and collaborative elements, such as lab courses. To improve the virtual environment in the fall, students suggested community building techniques, alternate assessment methods, and increased flexibility between students and faculty. This paper identifies multiple pedagogical practices that can be used to promote success in the online learning environment.

De Souza, N., & Ochotorena, M., & Self, B. P., & Cooper, L. A. (2021, July), Sudden Shift to Online Learning: COVID-19's Impact on Engineering Student Experiences Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37784

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