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Understanding Key Student Perspectives in an Interdisciplinary Flex-model Sustainability Course as Compared to a Traditional In-person Course

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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

Capitalizing on COVID: Using This Disruptor to Change the Educational Model

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Tony Lee Kerzmann University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Tony Kerzmann’s higher education background began with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics from Duquesne University, as well as a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, Dr. Kerzmann began his career as an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Robert Morris University which afforded him the opportunity to research, teach, and advise in numerous engineering roles. He served as the mechanical coordinator for the RMU Engineering Department for six years, and was the Director of Outreach for the Research and Outreach Center in the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. In 2019, Dr. Kerzmann joined the Mechanical Engineering and Material Science (MEMS) department at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the advising coordinator and associate professor in the MEMS department, where he positively engages with numerous mechanical engineering advisees, teaches courses in mechanical engineering and sustainability, and conducts research in energy systems.

Throughout his career, Dr. Kerzmann has advised over eighty student projects, some of which have won regional and international awards. A recent project team won the Utility of Tomorrow competition, outperforming fifty-five international teams to bring home one of only five prizes. Additionally, he has developed and taught fourteen different courses, many of which were in the areas of energy, sustainability, thermodynamics, dynamics and heat transfer. He has always made an effort to incorporate experiential learning into the classroom through the use of demonstrations, guest speakers, student projects and site visits. Dr. Kerzmann is a firm believer that all students learn in their own unique way. In an effort to reach all students, he has consistently deployed a host of teaching strategies into his classes, including videos, example problems, quizzes, hands-on laboratories, demonstrations, and group work. Dr. Kerzmann is enthusiastic in the continued pursuit of his educational goals, research endeavors, and engagement of mechanical engineering students.

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David V.P. Sanchez University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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David Sanchez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Assistant Director for the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. His research is focused on fusing sustainability principles and design thinking to address the Water and Energy grand challenges in the natural and built environment. Current projects include: Renewable electrode materials for Bioelectrochemical systems, Recirculating Aquaponic Systems, Environmental Quality wireless sensor networks, and incorporating Sustainable Design/Innovation into engineering curricula.
He serves as a director for Pitt’s Design EXPO, the Manufacturing Assistance Center’s makerspace and, a variety of the Mascaro Center’s Sustainability Outreach and Education programs including the Manchester Academic Charter School “Green week” and the Teach the Teacher program, impacting thousands of students each year. Dr. Sanchez teaches Introduction to Sustainable Water Technology and Design, classes in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department and the Swanson School of Engineering First-Year program. He works directly with K-12 initiatives and outreach programs including Constellation Energy Inventor Labs.

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Claire P. Chouinard University of Pittsburgh

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Understanding the student perspective in the design and delivery of a course is key to improving the experience, especially when it relates to unique circumstances such as those introduced during the pandemic. With the onset of COVID-19, educators had to rapidly adapt their course delivery and be resilient enough to redesign their course to the needs of students. In order to accommodate these needs, the University of XXXXXXXXX has adopted a Flex-Model based on literature of the Hyflex teaching model. Within the Flex-Model, students have the option to attend classes in person, attend live via videoconferencing, or attend asynchronously via recorded lectures. From an instructor's perspective this type of flexibility adds significant complexity to the management of a course but allows students to learn in an environment in which they feel safe, comfortable and engaged. Add to this complexity an interdisciplinary class roster, and there are now several interconnected variables which this research will attempt to illuminate.

The research team endeavors to highlight the educational elements that are key to an effective learning environment for students in an interdisciplinary survey of sustainability course. A questionnaire was administered to two class sections of the course with 82 undergraduate students and 10 graduate students. Within the questionnaire were questions relating to specific educational components of the Flex-Model pedagogy. Some of these key educational elements surveyed include understanding the course material, students’ perceived retention of the concepts, mental, physical and emotional well-being, interaction with peers and instructors, and the effectiveness of the technology utilized within the class environment. The survey includes a combination of Likert scale questions and open-ended essay questions with a focus on contrasting student opinion between online and in-person course delivery. Throughout the survey, students are asked to self-reflect about topics such as understanding of concepts, course rigor and level of retention in an online environment as compared to a traditional in-person class.

The questionnaire data has provided the team with a valuable combination of quantitative and qualitative data with which to draw meaningful conclusions. One of the major takeaways from this research is that although students are highly adaptable and can adjust to the remote aspects of a flex model, their perceived ability to learn in an online environment is significantly lower than in an in-person classroom. This study provides meaningful insight into the student perspective of the Flex-Model pedagogy, including revealing student perceptions of their education in an online environment as opposed to a more traditional in person environment.

Kerzmann, T. L., & Sanchez, D. V., & Chouinard, C. P. (2021, July), Understanding Key Student Perspectives in an Interdisciplinary Flex-model Sustainability Course as Compared to a Traditional In-person Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37960

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