Facilitating synchronous team design activities to promote cognitive presence in a remote engineering laboratory class

Concurrent Session 3
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Brief Abstract

Digitally-facilitated team activities in an Engineering laboratory course will be piloted and evaluated. Researchers will measure students’ cognitive presence in synchronous team design activities facilitated via two collaboration tools: Edupad and Zoom breakout rooms. We will share the pedagogical mechanism of the remote team-design strategy and present our research findings.


Dr. Baiyun Chen is an Instructional Designer at the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida. She leads the Personalized Adaptive Learning team, designs and delivers faculty professional development programs, and teaches graduate courses on Instructional Systems Design. Her research interests focus on using instructional strategies in online and blended teaching and learning, professional development for teaching online, and application of emerging technologies in education. On related topics of online instruction, she has published 19 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and delivered more than 50 presentations at international and local conferences and events. She has also served as the Co-Managing Editor of the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. In 2016 and 2017, Dr. Chen co-facilitated BlendKit, a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Becoming a Blended Learning Designer. As an Online Learning Consortium Institute faculty, she has designed, developed and taught the Blended Learning Mastery Series: Research into Practice.

Extended Abstract


The worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 has introduced challenges to delivering and conducting laboratory-based components within engineering curricula. The goal of this research is to evaluate various digitally-facilitated team activities within the laboratory component of this course. In addition, researchers will measure students’ cognitive presence in these synchronous team design activities via Edupad (a collaborative digital text-editing platform) and Zoom (a video conferencing platform) and study their perceptions of the learning experience.   

Research Context: Team Design Learning 

Team design, group problem solving, and project collaboration have always been prominent attributes of Engineering education and the professional practice of Engineering fields (DeMara, Campbell, Hartshorne, Spiegel, & Katz, 2019). These are commonly manifested throughout Engineering curricula as laboratory components, course projects, and even Senior Design courses as these activities frequently rely on team-based learning. Central to the last two decades, and into the foreseeable future, team design skills are receiving increased focus due to the complexity of science and engineering skills taught in degree programs and deployed in practice. The rising tide of complex system design necessitates future graduates in Engineering fields be able to function effectively as specialists who will also work well together within a diverse team during product development and research. Thus, the advancement of forward-looking educational technologies demonstrating the potential to support team-based instruction is increasingly vital and continues to be of broad impact across Engineering fields. 

During the summer 2020 semester, the course instructor will remotely facilitate four team-design activities in a Computer Organization course with 70 students enrolled. Specifically, students will be grouped into teams of 10 for each activity. The learning activity consists of six steps comprised of: 1) convening the teams, 2) disbursing the challenge problem, 3) technology-enabled collaboration between students, 4) reaching peer consensus on the correct answer, 5) submitting machine-gradable responses, and 6) presenting results to the learners for discussion” (DeMara, Salehi, Hartshorne, & Chen, 2017).  

While the lab class will be facilitated via Zoom and students will be sent into breakout rooms for the team design activity, Edupad is the collaborative online text-based editor that enables the team collaboration. Edupad allows participants to edit text documents simultaneously and see their collaborators’ edits in real-time. It displays each participant’s communication and contributions in their own text color so their contributions are differentiated and color-coded. There is also a chat window embedded within Edupad to facilitate live discussions during text edits. Edupad is a cost-free program increasing in popularity in academia for the purpose of collaborative writing, document editing, and synchronous online meeting. A prominent feature of Edupad that is valuable for design teams, as compared to Google Docs,  is that color-coded traceability documents the extent to which group members are adding/editing content. Similarly, Edupad does not require students to sign up for an account in order to utilize the tool. Therefore, the logistics of classroom integration are greatly reduced. In the team design activity, the whiteboard is used by the team to collaboratively construct the solution to a given Challenge Problem. The chat window is used by team members to share resources, discuss their approach to the problem, and reach a consensus prior to submitting for grading. 

Research Questions 

Cognitive presence, situated within the community of inquiry (CoI) framework, is the ability to create and confirm meaning through sustained communication and reflection (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). According to the Practical Inquiry model, the cognitive presence discourse consists of four phases: (a) putting forth an issue (triggering event), (b) sharing ideas about the issue (exploration), (c) connecting ideas (integration), and (d) developing solutions to those issues (resolution).  A learning activity reaches a high level of cognitive presence when students complete these four phases.  

Further, a review of the literature indicated that limited studies have been done on remote teaching of Engineering laboratory courses. Thus, researchers intend to answer the following research questions: 

  1. To what extent do students gain social, teaching or cognitive presences in remote team design activities?  
  2. What levels of cognitive presence are demonstrated during the learning activity?  
  3. How do students perceive learning through remote team design activities? 


Research participants consist of 70 students enrolled in an undergraduate Engineering lab course, Computer Organization, during summer 2020 at a large southeastern university in the United States. Participants will be divided into two randomly selected groups, The course is classified as a remote teaching course due to the COVID-19 pandemic restriction. It consists of both weekly online lectures, four synchronous online team design activities, and asynchronous assignments and tests. Data pertaining to the remote team design activities collected will include the Edupad log coding,  and  Likert-scale feedback surveys used to measure cognitive presence (Arbaugh, Cleveland-Innes, Diaz, Garrison, Ice, Richardson, & Swan, 2008). The coding of the Edupad logs will be done using the cognitive presence element of the established Collaborative Coding Template (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, p. 4). Data are collected under a protocol approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board, and data analyses will be concluded after the end of the summer 2020 semester.  The research results will be reported at the OLC conference Accelerate 2020 in November 2020. 

Session Goals  

Attendees of this session will learn about our research findings and the implementation of team design activities in remote teaching. In particular, they will achieve three goals for this session: 1) Participants will engage in a conversation with colleagues about the challenges to remotely delivering and conducting laboratory-based components within engineering and other curricula; 2) Participants will explore various pedagogical mechanisms that support, extend, and enhance settings for the digitally-mediated team and collaborative instructional approaches; and 3) Participants will develop ideas related to enhancing the development of students as efficient team members for high performing collaboration skills while simultaneously expanding their cognitive presence, content knowledge, and mastery skills.    

Level of Participation  

Participant discussions will be facilitated around the above three goals throughout the session. At the beginning of the session, participants will share their own experiences with remote instruction and engage in a conversation about the challenges and solutions of remote instruction. As we present our research context, participants will engage in real-time small-group collaborations through Edupad to have a first-hand experience of this collaborative instructional approach. At the end of the session,  participants will be encouraged to reflect on their own teaching contexts and develop ideas for their own implementation of team design activities across disciplines.      


Arbaugh, J. B., Cleveland-Innes, M., Diaz, S. R., Garrison, D. R., Ice, P., Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. P. (2008). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the community of inquiry framework Using a multi-institutional sample. Internet and Higher Education11(3-4), 133–136. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2008.06.003 

DeMara, R. F., Campbell, L. O., Hartshorne, R. Spiegel, S. & Katz, J. G. (2019). Community Report on Digitally-Mediated Team Learning. National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL) Rapid Community Report. August 1. Available at: https://circlcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/DeMara-DMTL-Whitepape...

DeMara, R. F., Salehi, S., Hartshorne, R. , & Chen, B. (2017). GLASS: Group Learning At Significant Scale via WiFi-Enabled Learner Design Teams in an ECE Flipped Classroom. Proceeding of the American Association for Engineering Education National Conference, Columbus, OH, June 25-28. 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education2, 87- –105. doi: 10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6