Transforming an Engineering Design Course into an Engaging Learning Experience Using a Series of Self-Directed Mini-Projects and ePortfolios: Face-to-Face Versus Online-only Instruction

Taylor Tucker, Ava R. Wolf, Nattasit Dancholvichit, Leon Liebenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Contemporary educational challenges have become amplified through the adoption of online-only modes of instruction due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When planning and delivering online instruction, even more than when delivering face-to-face instruction, engineering educators need to involve students at cognitive and emotional levels that encourage authentic, meaningful, and immersive learning experiences. During traditional online learning, students often feel disconnected from their learning communities. They also report a lack of motivation. Emotional engagement is therefore a necessary complement to cognitive engagement, while further helping to facilitate intrinsic motivation and feelings of delight, surprise, understanding, empathy, and trust. This study analyzes the use of scaffolded mini-projects (complex design projects divided into smaller segments) combined with comprehensive electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) in a sophomore-level Design for Manufacturability course. By emphasizing progressively more complex learning experiences and pairing these with electronic portfolios, students may become more attuned to cognitive learning processes such as effective planning and communication of complex ideas. We also hypothesize that they may develop awareness of, and competency in, skills with an emotional component including self-directed learning, autonomous exploration, and creative inspiration. For the purposes of this investigation, mini-projects may be independent from one another or connected as a series. Lessons from previous mini-projects are built into subsequent projects, and each offers loosely-defined analytical questions and open-ended design questions that require independent research. The unfolding of scaffolded mini-projects offers an orderly mechanism for students to grow and demonstrate important engineering competencies, especially when offered in tandem with teaching-learning-assessments via ePortfolios. ePortfolios have been shown to be effective in documenting learning competencies, enabling meta-analysis and personal reflection, and improving skills in the use of social media to communicate ideas. In effect, mini-projects combined with ePortfolios may help to facilitate deeper understanding of course content, make the curriculum more relevant for students, and build connections between classroom and professional learning competencies. This study offers a comparative analysis evaluating the efficacy of using mini-projects and ePortfolios in a face-to-face learning environment (Fall 2019) and in an online-only learning environment (Fall 2020). Participants in the face-to-face Fall 2019 (n = 104) course completed a questionnaire that evaluated specific engagement constructs. The completed questionnaires were evaluated using descriptive statistics and factor analysis. Data from the Fall 2020 (n = 64) course were evaluated using the same assessment methodology. It is hoped that findings from this work may contribute to the development of self-directed learning strategies that enhance students' cognitive and emotional engagement in their learning during online-only and face-to-face instruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Transforming an Engineering Design Course into an Engaging Learning Experience Using a Series of Self-Directed Mini-Projects and ePortfolios: Face-to-Face Versus Online-only Instruction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this