The emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 changed the face of education. At our University, planning for the Fall 2020 semester started well before the end of the 2019-20 academic year. For the Fall 2020 semester, faculty at our university had the option to teach in various modalities according to what fit their personal and course needs. The options included online (asynchronous materials completed with time and place flexibility), remote (synchronous, scheduled meetings that students can attend virtually), or hybrid (classes that have face-to-face meeting times, but offer students opportunities to complete most activities virtually and/or remotely). Restrictions placed on class size with physical distancing measures limited the number of students who could attend a given class session face-to-face.
In the first-year program at our University, we value an active, collaborative learning environment; an environment that would be difficult to implement asynchronously. Throughout the summer, the faculty in our department expanded our knowledge of online learning and teaching in this modality. All faculty took classes in online teaching over the summer. Additionally, some faculty completed courses on creating accessible course content. All were engaged in the planning for an interactive, collaborative fall experience for first-year students that could be offered in a synchronous remote or hybrid environment.
In a normal face-to-face setting, our first-year engineering courses meet three times a week: two 110-minute studio sessions led by a faculty member with support from five LEarning with Academic Partners (LEAP) Leaders and one 50-minute (LEAP) session led by their LEAP Leader. The studio sessions are fully flipped, where students watch videos, complete reading assignments, and submit a short assignment before attending class. During class they have a short quiz over the preparation materials and then they spend the majority of the session applying what they learned by working through problem sets together in a team of three to four students while getting support from their team, their LEAP Leader, and their faculty member. There are up to 120 students in the studio session and one LEAP Leader per 24 students. During studio sessions the LEAP leaders monitor and guide their students through the in-class assignments. The LEAP sessions are active collaborative sessions designed and facilitated by their LEAP Leader to review the most difficult content covered in class that week. In Fall 2020, the studio sessions were offered in a remote or hybrid environment with up to 20 students per LEAP Leader. All LEAP Sessions were offered remotely.
Despite the shift to a remote or hybrid modality, we wanted our first-year students to still experience an active, collaborative learning environment. In this paper, we focus on discussing the steps we have taken to maintain and/or improve the connection between students and the engagement with the course materials. Data from Fall 2019 will be used to compare our results from Fall 2020.
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