The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered practices of engagement within institutions of higher education. In particular, STEM students that study a technical trade have been greatly disadvantaged by the imposition of a virtual classroom setting. Whereas prior to the pandemic STEM students could undertake hands-on technical work in labs or factories, COVID-19 has made this prospect an impossibility in many cases. For this reason, research entities are conducting studies to establish evidence-based guidelines for academic institutions faced with such unprecedented conditions.
HSIL research team is investigating the consequences of unprecedented conditions on academic institutions and developing technological mechanisms to support the educational development of technical students. Led by Dr. Kapil Chalil Madathil, this team also includes Dr. Rebecca Hartley, the CUCWD Director of Operations, Dr. Eliza Gallagher, an Assistant Professor within the Clemson University Departments of Engineering & Science Education, Mathematical Sciences, and Education and Human Development, and Mr. Jonathan Beck, the Executive Director of NSF National Center for Autonomous Technologies.
With the aid provided by a Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Chalil Madathil’s team is utilizing concepts of resilience engineering to better understand the ways in which academic institutions responded to the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with the South Carolina Technical College System, the CUCWD team is directing research studies that evaluate digital learning tools (digital curricula, e-learning, simulations, VR/AR modules, etc.) at institutions of higher education in South Carolina. This research examines the constraints placed upon STEM students, STEM professors, and administrators of technical colleges, as well as the barriers preventing these colleges from successfully integrating e-learning platforms amidst the recently-commenced virtual classroom setting. Through the employment of digital learning tools developed by the Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools (CA2VES), the research team intends to formulate student-centered policies and guidelines of academic resilience for institutions of higher education across the country.
The data involved within this research will largely be gathered through informant interviews and focus groups, which allows the researchers to relate firsthand experiences and strategies to the application of system improvement within digital learning tools. In particular, this research project promotes innovation by combining organizational analysis and human factors with the framework of resilience engineering. Additionally, in order to add further perspectives and consider additional improvements of accessibility, the research team is seeking to include as many students from underrepresented minorities as possible.
At the conclusion of the statewide studies, the research team will then work with the National Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT) to conduct a national survey discerning the optimal strategies to be asserted in the midst of a rapid transition to online learning. With NCAT, the Human Systems Integration Lab plans to manifest evidence-based guidelines for academic continuity within e-learning platforms, especially in response to unprecedented conditions. These findings will then be widely disseminated through presentations, conferences, journal papers.