Mechanical engineering draws from existing success in online teaching

As a leader in online engineering education, the Department of Mechanical Engineering shares insights and pathways for success


Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When the global coronavirus pandemic prompted the transition to remote learning at Penn State, faculty and administrators in the Department of Mechanical Engineering were ready for the challenge.

“Culturally, our department has already shown a strong commitment to online learning,” said Andrea Gregg, director of online pedagogy and credentialing. “With our master of science program through World Campus, we are showing students can succeed in a remote learning environment. We also have an amazing infrastructure and faculty and staff expertise that enabled us to move forward.”

While the situation to transition all classwork to online is unprecedented, Gregg said the foundational approach to education remains unchanged.

“My philosophy throughout my entire career has been pedagogy first and technology second,” she said.

The most critical fundamentals she conveys to the engineering faculty is figuring out the learning outcomes that students need to achieve. While the method of delivery may be different, the end result is the same.

She said, “For example, if you were planning to evaluate students through a proctored exam, take a moment to grieve that you can’t do it exactly the same way online, but then figure out your options.”

“Every faculty member should consider why are we having these exams and assignments,” Gregg said. “Once your objective is clear, be creative and flexible to get those same outcomes in an online space.”

Along with hosting regular Zoom meetings to support faculty in their new teaching duties, Gregg outlined the basic tenets for student success:

  • Provide emotional support. “We are humans first, students and faculty members second,” Gregg said. “Make sure everyone is doing okay physically and emotionally.”
  • Strive for constant, clear communication. “Consider frequent surveys of your students to find out problems such as internet connectivity issues,” she said. “You don’t want to find out when it’s too late your students are struggling.”
  • Be flexible. While the situation may be causing additional stress for you as a faculty member, consider the same impact on your students. “They had planned on completing their coursework in a resident program, so those concerns need to be addressed as well,” Gregg said.

In addition, the University prides itself on a strong network of professionals in educational technology and learning designs.

“We’ve connected in a number of ways, like listservs, Yammer and conferences,” Gregg said. “It’s a real supportive, helpful community.”

While there will likely be challenges ahead, Gregg believes this experience may help students gain resiliency and perspective on their post-graduate lives.

“This is a real-world situation,” she said. “As an engineer, you have goals to meet and there are things in the way. Students can benefit from thinking about this as a learning exercise for their future job.”


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Megan Lakatos

“This is a real-world situation. As an engineer, you have goals to meet and there are things in the way. Students can benefit from thinking about this as a learning exercise for their future job.”
—Andrea Gregg, director of online pedagogy and credentialing