Students often confuse the practice of teaching, scholarly teaching, scholarship of teaching and learning, and education research, often associating engineering education research with improving individual teachers’ practices and assessment and failing to recognize its greater potential contributions to advancing all aspects of engineering education.
This REU program provides opportunities to introduce students to the significance and rigor of the field of engineering education research. The program will allow students to fully participate in engineering education research topics that span a range of disciplines and contexts and provide a pathway into graduate level engineering education research.
Competitive stipend: $6,000
Suite-style room and meal plan
Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
Campus parking and/or bus pass
Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
Evidencing Epidemic Change in Engineering Education
The use of a wide array of teaching practices and strategies (WATPS) in higher STEM education has been shown to improve students’ conceptual understanding, appeal to a diverse set of students, and increase persistence in engineering, especially among underrepresented groups (Freeman et al., 2014; Kuh et al., 2006; President's Council, 2012; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many engineering instructors continued to use traditional teaching methods, hindering the formation of engineers. When universities switched to emergency remote teaching (Hodges et al., 2020), instructors experienced crisis-induced motivation to adopt teaching practices/strategies they had not used before. The overarching research question is: To what extent did instructors sustain, enhance, or extend their use of these practices and strategies?
The research objective for this project is to investigate and document the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on instructors’ teaching practices and sustained use of a WATPS relative to instructors’ adaptability (“the effectiveness of an individual’s response to new demands resulting from the novel and often ill-defined problems created by uncertainty, complexity, and rapid changes in the work situation” (Chan, 2000, p. 3)) and course complexity (a measure of an instructors’ use of WATPS in a course and the challenge of implementing the teaching practices and strategies used a course). Student Participation: The REU participant(s) will learn to apply a Course Complexity Typology to classify the complexity of engineering courses using course artifacts (e.g., syllabi and learning management feature use data) and investigate changes in course complexity over time. Data will have been gathered prior to the REU program from multiple engineering departments and academic years. REU participants will work with an appropriate subset of the data to answer their specific research question(s).
Investigating Pandemic-Induced Changes to Engineering Education through the Lens of Engineering Culture
Increasing diversity in engineering has been a major focus in the U.S. for decades, and while significant resources have been invested in improving diversity in engineering, the numbers have remained relatively stagnant. To move forward, research on engineering culture suggests that we must look inside the engineering classroom to understand why engineering remains largely white and largely male (Cech & Sherick, 2019; Lichtenstein et al., 2015). Most of what is known to date about engineering culture was captured during periods of stability. The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to higher education, exacerbating challenges around diversity and inclusion in engineering (Addo, 2020; Coley & Holly, 2021; Sealey et al., 2021; Sheppard, 2020) and providing an opportunity to either challenge or uphold the dimensions of engineering culture.
This research project will draw on Godfrey and Parker’s (2010) dimensions of engineering culture to address the research questions: (1) How do students describe changes in their engineering education experience over time during the pandemic? and (2) What do these changes tell us about the broader engineering culture? Student Participation: The REU student will use qualitative coding strategies to identify changes that students discussed and will then apply an established qualitative codebook to identify how elements of engineering culture emerged in students’ descriptions. Data will have been gathered prior to the REU program from 21 students across two sites.
Analyzing Assessments for Virtual/Augmented-Reality-Based Discipline Exploration Rotations (VADERs)
The path to proficiency in engineering is long and difficult, often lacking displays of what it would be like to be an engineer and the positive societal impacts of engineering, weakening students’ interest (engagement) and confidence (self-efficacy) and perpetuating issues of retention and capacity building (National Academies, 2016). Virtual/Augmented-Reality-Based Discipline Exploration Rotations (VADERs) provide students with a platform to explore Architectural Engineering and its subdisciplines through virtual, mock-up healthcare spaces and interactions. VADERs are open-ended, human-computer interactions informed by the Model of Domain Learning (MDL, Kulilowich & Hepler, 2018) framework to help students visualize themselves in their chosen careers and enhance resiliency against the challenges of an engineering degree program. VADERs are embedded into courses through assignments to allow students to better link concepts learned in the classroom to realistic work examples.
The overarching research question guiding this work is: Do VADERs positively impact student interest and self-efficacy in engineering? Data will be available from two architectural engineering departments and multiple courses over a two-year period. Student Participation: The REU participant(s) will analyze a series of structured assessments and self-reflections aligned to Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT, Lent et al., 1994) to gauge the impact of VADERs on (1) students’ interest, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations with attention to general statistical trends, (2) differences across subject demographics, and (3) emerging themes across multiple exposures to VADER modules.
Spatial Visualization Skills and Engineering Problem Solving
Spatial skills have been linked to success in STEM degree attainment (Wai, et al., 2009). Spatial skills have also shown some correlation to successful problem solving (Duffy et al., 2020). This study investigates the links between spatial skills and problem solving by using several spatial measures and engineering problems while collecting eye tracking data and perceived stress (wrist band data). Two research questions guide the project: (1) Do demographic differences exist between students in terms of their spatial skills and engineering problem solving? (2) Do stress levels and eye movements differ between demographic groups when solving engineering problems?
Student Participation: The REU participant(s) will conduct quantitative data analysis using already collected eye tracking and wristband data. The student will have the autonomy to lead the direction of the data analysis as they interpret results.
Transfer of Engineering Learning Between Capstone and Work
At the core of education is a need for students to transfer their learning beyond the classroom (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999). This is particularly true for the transition between school and work, a period where recent graduates are expected to apply their educational knowledge to real-world engineering problems. In engineering programs, capstone courses are typically designed to bridge this gap, providing a chance to engage in open-ended projects that ask students to apply previously-attained knowledge and simulate real-world work experiences (Pembridge & Paretti, 2010). Few studies have thoroughly examined the transition between capstone and work, and even fewer have asked what knowledge, skills, and attributes are transferring between the two.
As such, the purpose of this study is to investigate the nature of transfer between work and school among recent engineering graduates entering the workforce. More specifically, this work will explore how transfer changes based upon variables such as demographics, capstone features, and workplace characteristics. Student Participation: The REU participant(s) will apply an established codebook based on the theory of Actor-Oriented Transfer (Lobato, 2012) to analyze interviews and reflective journals. Data will have been gathered at four engineering institutions across the U.S.
Immersive Reality to Improve Hazard Recognition on Construction Sites
The U.S. construction industry experienced thousands of fatalities and hundreds of thousands of non-fatal injuries in the past five years (USDOL, 2021). These staggering numbers draw attention to the critical need for a better understanding of safety and safety recognition on construction worksites. Prior researchers have aimed to reduce death and fatalities by using VR platforms for safety training (Le et al., 2015; Schwebel, 2016). While VR can support learners in identifying certain construction safety violations and hazards (Sacks et al., 2013), this does not automatically translate to safer practices. Workers often know safety regulations, but do not follow them because of perceived convenience or time-savings. When they eventually witness or sustain an injury, the experience creates a deep and long-lasting lesson learned (Hallowell, 2010). Therefore, unlike prior VR studies that focused only on hazard recognition, this work examines the emotional responses during experiential learning.
The objectives of this research are to (1) create a novel and fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR) safety education environment that provides haptic feedback to users when hazards go unrecognized and unaddressed; (2) measure the extent to which instruction in this environment enhances learning outcomes in construction safety compared to traditional media; and (3) measure and explain the psychological mediators of cyberlearning in this multimedia-rich environment. Student Participation: The REU participant(s) will assist in data analysis collected from the virtual reality and haptic equipment. Results from this data analysis will be synthesized into recommendations for construction companies seeking to use this technology in their safety trainings.
A core component of ABET’s student outcomes is the ability for engineering students to be lifelong learners, or learners that can continually acquire and apply new knowledge beyond their time in a formal education setting (ABET, 2022). Lifelong learning is critical for the workplace, where engineering graduates must continue their learning journey in a real-world environment (Martinez-Mediano & Lord, 2012). Moreover, as engineering graduates progress through their careers, many make the transition from technical engineering roles to management roles; a transition that requires a different set of skills. But how prepared are students for this lifelong learning throughout the trajectory of their careers? While current research tends to focus on preparedness in terms of employability immediately after graduation (Ford et al., 2019; Winberg et al., 2020), few studies evaluate preparedness on a long-term scale. As such, this study will focus on perceptions of preparedness of early- to mid-career engineers with the following foci: (1) the challenges they face when transitioning from technical to management-focused roles, (2) the gaps they perceive in their readiness for management roles, and (3) how demographic factors like gender and race impact their experience transitioning into management positions.
Broadly, the goal of this study is to understand challenges and opportunities that early- to mid-career engineers encounter as they move into higher-level roles; insights will enable consideration of how best to prepare undergraduate students with the skills needed to progress through later phases of their careers.Student Participation: The REU participant(s) will apply an established codebook to interview data that will have been collected from early- to mid-career engineers enrolled in a Master of Engineering Management program at a large mid-western land grant university. The REU participants will work with an appropriate subset of the data to answer research questions associated with one project focus.