This Work in Progress paper will describe how we created an active learning environment utilizing an online platform in a first year engineering course. The first year engineering computing course, required for all engineering students at a southern, four year institution, became common for all engineering disciplines through the Engineering First Year Experience in Fall 2016. In this class, students learn how to problem solve using MATLAB, a coding language free to students. The class is traditionally taught face-to-face in a lecture hall with a mix of instructor-led problem solving examples and tutorials and students working individually, in pairs, and in groups on in-class work. In order to provide the illusion of small class sizes for our students, academic support assistants (ASAs) are utilized to assist students both in and out of class. These ASAs assist students with hands-on activities and course projects, as well as provide help during office hours on assignments outside of class. Interaction between the instructor, ASAs, and students is critical in engaging students during the process of problem solving with this new programming language.
This southern university has many non-traditional students that commute and have professional and personal commitments off-campus that make scheduling courses difficult. In order to provide an alternate class option, an online version of the course was created. The significance of this work is developing online strategies so these students do not miss out on an engaging environment of a face-to-face class while still having the opportunity to succeed amidst the challenges they face outside of the classroom. In addition, for courses that are centered on active learning approaches, online platforms are not typically considered an alternative due to the traditionally passive approach to learning. This barrier needs to be elucidated so that students who benefit from the flexibility of an online course can still have the opportunity to thrive in an engaging environment. Therefore, the research question for this study is, how do engagement and achievement levels of first-year engineering students differ between online and face-to-face classes?
A single section with a capacity of 40 students will be offered as a synchronous online class. A survey using both quantitative and qualitative measures will be given midway through the semester and at the end of the semester to all students enrolled in both the normal (face-to-face) and online sections of the computing course. Following the conclusion of the semester, survey data will be analyzed using pairwise comparisons of the group of students from the two different course offerings.
This project aims to develop an online delivery method that will equally engage students in an online platform without negatively impacting grades. Preliminary results for a small pilot section show promising results compared to the face-to-face sections with further analysis and implementation planned.
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