RAPID: Investigating Effects of the Disruptive Shift to Online Courses on Identity Formation and Self-Efficacy of Students and Faculty in a First-Year Engineering Course

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project will gather time-sensitive data needed to investigate the impact of the rapid shift to online instruction due to COVID-19. The project focuses on students in a project-based first-year engineering design course. Although it is effective in slowing viral infections, the sudden change to online instruction will also have a significant impact on undergraduate student experiences and learning. Successful online courses typically are developed over months or years, with substantial support from instructional designers or other specialists at the institution. In this case, the development of online courses had to be accomplished within weeks, and institutions did not have the capacity to scale assistance to all faculty as they converted their in-person courses to online courses. Courses that include hands-on experiences, such as design courses, are a particularly thorny challenge to effectively deliver online.

High-quality instruction is critical in first-year courses, where students begin to form their identities as engineers and develop confidence in their engineering abilities. Understanding the effects that the rapid shift to online courses has on student experiences in project-based engineering courses could fundamentally change the way administrators, educators, and industry prepare for and adapt to the unique needs of first-year students. The findings of this work will provide insights that can guide informed decisions about the future of engineering education. Three research questions will guide the investigations: 1. How do the self-efficacy beliefs and identity of students evolve during this transitional period? 2. How do the self-efficacy beliefs and the experiences of instructors evolve during this transitional period? 3. Are the results of the first two questions conditioned upon individual differences or the use of mediating technologies? To answer these questions, the project will use a mixed methods approach that features qualitative interviews, surveys, data mining from learning management systems, and natural language processing. The research plan will be broken into two phases: 1) in-situ data collection and analysis; and 2) analysis of the collected data. The analysis will enable the research team to explore the implications of this sudden shift on future course offerings, instructor behaviors and beliefs, and student persistence, particularly the retention of first-year engineering students from underrepresented groups. It can also provide insights about how to improve online versions of laboratory, design, and other courses that require students to do hands-on work. This RAPID award is made by the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program in the Division of Undergraduate Education (Education and Human Resources Directorate), using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date5/15/204/30/22


  • National Science Foundation: $196,136.00


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