NSF RAPID grant awarded: Research on the impacts COVID-19 has on engineering students' academic and social supports

Posted: June 24, 2020

We do not need to look far to see the major educational disruption for students caused by COVID-19. As universities quickly shifted to online learning, many students struggled to maintain close connections with peers and others on campuses that have proven crucial to their academic success. Instructors teaching team-based engineering courses had to quickly make decisions about how to support team-based learning via online platforms rather than face-to-face. The National Science Foundation (NSF) began focus on COVID-19 research in early spring, just as many in the United States started feeling the impacts of the pandemic. A classification of NSF funding called a RAPID grant allows for an expedited recommendation to fund time-sensitive proposals. The COVID-19 pandemic offers researchers a unique window to examine how the virus has impacted educational systems.

Dr. Julie Martin, of the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University, and Dr. Kerrie Douglas of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, are examining how these sudden changes influenced students’ relationships with their peers and campus-based personnel. Through an NSF RAPID collaborative research grant, Martin and Douglas have started research that will provide an understanding of how engineering instructors supported student connections in their courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, how the social supports identified by students supported their success in engineering courses and persistence in their major.

Their research, entitled Approaches to Online Implementation and Social Support in Undergraduate Engineering Courses, uses a multiple cross-case comparison of undergraduate, team-based engineering courses at Purdue University. Through collecting student survey data, conducting interviews with students and instructors, and examining course documents such as syllabi and schedules, the research team is exploring how choices made by engineering instructors during the COVID-19 pandemic are associated with undergraduate engineering students’ academic social supports and achievement of learning outcomes.

The research team hopes to use their work help make online and in-person instruction more inclusive by helping instructors to make future decisions that ensure that all students have the resources they need to be successful in the course and to persist in their major.  The team will use the results of this research to create a list of best practices for online STEM instructors which will be disseminated to the public through social media, professional organization outlets, and archival journals.