DBER - Improving Engineering Student Engagement, Self-Efficacy, Diversity Awareness, and Retention using Visualization and Virtual/Augmented Reality Technologies

Improving Engineering Student Engagement, Self-Efficacy, Diversity Awareness, and Retention using Visualization and Virtual/Augmented Reality Technologies

Project PI's: Drs. Ece Erdogmus (Georgia Tech), Heidi Diefes-Dux, Erica Ryherd, Kyungki Kim, & Catherine Armwood-Gordon (Tennessee State University)

Amount and Years: $1,700,000, 2021 - 2026

Funding: National Science Foundation Award #2111561

Abstract: This project serves the national interest by creating visualization and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) education modules in architectural engineering and construction (AEC) courses that will help improve students’ persistence in the program, self-confidence, and diversity awareness. Students will work on real world projects in teams using the visualization and interactive AR/VR modules. Social and technical interactions between students will be facilitated using virtual spaces that simulate physical meeting rooms in which students can share engineering artifacts. Student learning will be supported with an interactive building environment, interactive exercises in a 3D virtual environment, and embedded audio/videos that provide feedback on student design decisions. Students will visualize themselves as AEC professionals and increase their self-efficacy starting in K-12 or community college contexts as well as in the first year of their degree program. More advanced real-life engineering experiences will continue to reinforce self-efficacy and engagement in engineering throughout the AEC curriculum. This collaboration between a research-intensive institution, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and an HBCU, Tennessee State University, will provide an opportunity for students to interact with other students from diverse backgrounds and produce valuable insights on the effectiveness of the education modules with different audiences. A virtual workshop series will be used to support the adoption of the modules by other AEC programs, other engineering disciplines, and high school teachers.

Three education modules will be developed and implemented in courses at the collaborating institutions. An introductory module will be used for outreach to K-12 and community colleges to generate interest in AEC fields. The remaining modules will be used for first and second-year AEC students in existing courses. The design of the modules is informed by the Model of Domain Learning theoretical framework including its constructs of stages of learning and phases of interest. Modules will be developed with attention to the learning objectives of the courses and the level of AEC curriculum that is being targeted. The project seeks to answer the following overarching research questions: 1) How does a module impact students' engagement, self-efficacy, and diversity awareness? 2) How do enrollment, retention, and graduation rates change as modules are introduced into the curriculum? and 3) How do the findings to the first two questions vary by institution? Each module will provide the basis for a multi-case study where the institutional context defines each case. Rich case descriptions and cross-case analysis will guide improvements to the module, highlight module transferability barriers and affordances, and enable interpretation of findings based on data from survey instruments and interviews. This project will advance knowledge about the impact of AR/VR-based learning modules in STEM teaching and learning.

Refereed Conference Papers

Erdogmus, E., Ryherd, E., Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Armwood-Gordon, C. (2021). Use of virtual reality to improve engagement and self-efficacy in architectural engineering disciplines. Paper presented at 51st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Lincoln, NE.


McArthur, M., & Diefes-Dux, H. (2021, August 4). Effects of virtual/augmented reality technology on subdiscipline understanding and commitment for first-year architectural engineering students [Poster Presentation]. Nebraska Virtual Summer Research Symposium 2021, Virtual. https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/17555 Poster