July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
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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