July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
This Complete Evidence-based Practice paper describes the redesign of a large enrollment lecture-style First Year Experience (FYE) engineering course and its implementation in an online format. FYE engineering courses at large, research-focused universities present a unique challenge from a curricular and administrative perspective. Prior research indicates large lecture-style courses should be interdisciplinary and interactive, while presenting enough technical content within each engineering discipline to aid or reinforce students’ choices of majors. These course characteristics are most effectively supported by student-centered pedagogical approaches, such as Problem Based Learning (PBL). While ideal from a pedagogical perspective, small class sizes with multiple, experienced faculty instructors are sometimes not attainable given the financial and human resource limitations. Prior work by our group introduced a curricular and logistical model of a large-enrollment FYE course that provided students with an intensive collaborative engineering design experience in a face-to-face (FTF) instructional setting. In this paper, we present strategies for offering large-enrollment FYE courses in an entirely online setting, which was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic; and we examine the effectiveness of this approach by comparing student outcomes between FTF and online course formats.
For this study, we compared FTF and online formats of a large enrollment FYE engineering course at a public university in the US. The FYE course is required for all first-semester engineering students across all disciplines and taught in two sections of approximately 325-350 students over a 14-week term. The instructional team includes two faculty instructors and a team of near-peer teaching assistants (1:25 TA:student ratio). Course learning objectives were identical for F2F and online formats and included (1) Applying the Engineering Design Process to solve open-ended product and process-based design challenges; (2) Utilizing skills common across all engineering disciplines, like mathematical modeling and design schematics; and (3) Engaging in constructive collaboration with peers. These learning objectives were reinforced through two, team-based PBL design projects that were scaffolded by weekly team assignments as well as individual formative assessments based on course lecture material. Students were randomly assigned to teams of 5-6 individuals, and they routinely completed peer evaluations to individuate team grades.
The transformation of this large-enrollment FYE course from F2F to online format necessitated changes to student assignments and course logistics. Hour-long FTF lectures were parsed into shorter video recordings that were released at the start of each week. Unique to the online course, university-wide FYE topics, like sexual consent and issues of privilege and structural racism, were presented in a “podcast” format. Asynchronous lecture content was supplemented by parallel, TA-led synchronous workshop sessions that were unique to the online course and focused on student team planning for the weekly assignments. Weekly team assignments and individual formative assessments were largely consistent between FTF and online course versions; however, the two team-based PBL projects were altered for the online format. In FTF format, the first project involved hands-on design of a mechanical system with provided, low-cost construction materials (e.g., foam core, wooden dowels). For the online version of the course, students were mailed a set of low-cost, laser cut wooden mechanical components. Working in their teams, students used 2D and 3D modeling software to create their own unique machine designs, and these designs were manufactured in university prototyping facilities and mailed to the students for final testing. Similar for FTF and online course versions, the second course project involved conservation of energy and mass principles and substantive background research. In the FTF format, the topic for the second project was a forensic analysis of a chemical safety incident, and in the online version it was a life cycle analysis of two consumer choices.
In this paper, we will compare student-centered outcomes for online versus FTF formats for the same large-enrollment FTE course. The online course occurred in Fall 2020 during the COVID pandemic, and FTF data were taken from the prior course year (Fall 2019). We will compare student performance on summative assignments that were used both semesters (~60% all assignments) and used identical grading rubrics. Additionally, we will compare students’ self-perceived growth related to the course learning objectives from pre/post course surveys administered in both FTF and online course versions. The results of this study will guide our institution and others in determining whether FYE courses should still be offered in large-enrollment sections in the event of mandatory online instruction, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malladi, H., & Trauth, A., & Enszer, J. A., & Headley, M. G., & Buckley, J. (2021, July), Transforming a Large-lecture FYE Course Structure into Virtual Collaborative Learning Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37929
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