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Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Online Graduate Engineering Education: Learning-Centered Vision, Administration, and Course Design

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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

Graduate Studies Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Andrea Gregg Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Gregg is the Director of Online Pedagogy and an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Penn State Mechanical Engineering department. She facilitates faculty development to maximize teaching and learning efficacy throughout the ME curriculum, with a primary focus on online learning. She is also responsible for leading quality instructional design for residential and online offerings; facilitating an activity community of practice for Mechanical Engineering faculty dedicated to continuous quality improvement in pedagogy; and leading and evaluating emerging educational technology innovations such as digital badges, adaptive learning, and learning analytics. She conducts research related to the scholarship of teaching and learning in Mechanical Engineering in order to improve practice in the department and contribute to the national and international Engineering Education research community through presentations and publications.

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Catherine G.P. Berdanier Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16

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Catherine G.P. Berdanier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University and is the Director of the Online Master's of Science in Mechanical Engineering Program at Penn State. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry from The University of South Dakota, her M.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Her research interests include graduate-level engineering education, including inter- and multidisciplinary graduate education, online engineering cognition and learning, and engineering communication.

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Karen A. Thole Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Karen A. Thole is a Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. She holds two degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. As the Department head, her administrative and educational efforts have focused on significantly growing the faculty, diversifying the faculty and students, and emphasizing interdisciplinary research. Dr. Thole successfully led the effort to establish an online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and the development and approval of a Master of Science (resident) / Master of Engineering (online) in Additive Manufacturing and Design, which was the first such degree offered in the United States. Dr. Thole has been recognized for her efforts in mechanical engineering education and diversity as a U.S. White House Champion of Change, and by ASME’s Edwin F. Church Medal, ABET’s Claire L. Felbinger Diversity Award, and SWE’s Distinguished Engineering Educator Award. She has also been recognized for her faculty mentoring efforts through Penn State’s Rosemary Schraer Mentoring Award and Howard B. Palmer Faculty Mentoring Award.

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This paper presents a theory-based perspective on the design and development of the online Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME) Program at the [Blinded for Review]. In its eighth year at the time of this writing, the online MSME program has experienced significant growth and over the last five years of the online MSME program has gone from a total of ~40 students in the program to 130 students. Nearly 50 students having earned their master’s of science degrees via the online program. This growth is in part due to explicit theory-driven attention to pedagogy, recruitment, mentoring, and facilitated guidance. Similar to our resident students, our online students have faculty research advisors and conduct masters-level research projects. This research element makes our online MSME program unique. While there is increasingly more written about the modest growth in online engineering education, there is little that connects design and execution of programming with foundational learning theories that we know are necessary to educate scholars. In this paper, we address this gap by describing the theoretical orientations by which our program makes decisions related to course design and scaffolding graduate education for working engineers, such as Academic Literacies Theory, Cognitive Apprenticeship, and Community of Practice Theory. We offer ways in which other similar online and blended programs can leverage theory in order to frame, build, and grow their programs. We also discuss practical implications for other programs considering putting all or some of their graduate degree programs in an online context, emphasizing features that are critical to success.

Gregg, A., & Berdanier, C. G., & Thole, K. A. (2021, July), Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Online Graduate Engineering Education: Learning-Centered Vision, Administration, and Course Design Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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