I just received a notice from the American Society for Engineering Education about a free online PD project for faculty who teach introductory engineering science.  It’s called  Advancing Engineering Education Through Virtual Communities of Practice, and they’ve just extended the application deadline to Feb. 8. Participants can choose from these topics:

  • Electric circuits
  • Mechanics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Mass & energy balance

I can’t tell if you have to be a member of an engineering department, or if it’s enough to teach one of these topics; I can’t even tell if you have to be American.  In any case, I applied.  From what I can tell, accepted applicants participate in once-weekly online meetings with facilitators who have experience with “research-based instructional approaches” (though they don’t tell you which ones, except for references to “Outcome-Based Education” — which I think of as an assessment approach, not exactly an instructional approach).

I suppose I should be concerned about the lack of details on the website (even the application deadline on the front page hasn’t been changed to reflect the extension), but I’m chalking it up to this being the prototype run, and anyway, the price is right.  The informed consent form makes it clear that this is a research project to explore the viability of the model, which is fine by me.  It’ll be worth it if it leads to any of these things:

  1. Working on instructional changes in a systematic way (rather than the somewhat haphazard and occasionally accidental way I’ve been doing it so far)
  2. Focusing on the specific ways particular instructional approaches play out in circuits courses, not to mention deepening my content knowledge
  3. Having a consistent group to work with over the course of 6 months (and two different academic years).

It seems to bring together the advantages of something like the Global Physics Department, with the bonus that every meeting will be about exactly what I teach, and the meeting time will be a part of my scheduled workday.

The email I received from the ASEE contains details that are not available on the website, so I’m including it below.

NSF-funded project to develop engineering faculty virtual communities of practice

Engineering education research has shown that many research-based instructional approaches improve student learning but these have not diffused widely because faculty members find it difficult to acquire the required knowledge and skills by themselves and then sustain the on-going implementation efforts without continued encouragement and support.
ASEE with a grant from NSF is organizing several web-based faculty communities that will work to develop the group’s understanding of research-based instructional approaches and then support individual members as they implement self-selected new approaches in their classes.  Participants should be open to this new technology-based approach and see themselves as innovators in a new approach to professional development and continuous improvement.

The material below and the project website provide more information about these communities and the application process. Questions should be addressed to Rocio Chavela at r.chavela@asee.org.

If you are interested in learning about effective teaching approaches and working with experienced mentors and collaborating colleagues as you begin using these in your classroom, you are encouraged to apply to this program. If you know of others that may be interested, please share this message with them.

Please consider applying for this program and encouraging potentially interested colleagues to apply. Applications are due by February 8, 2013.

Additional Details About the Program


Faculty groups, which will effectively become virtual communities of practice (VCP) with 20 to 30 members, will meet weekly at a scheduled time using virtual meeting software during the second half of the Spring 2013 Semester and during the entire Fall 2013 Semester. Each group will be led by two individuals that have implemented research-based approaches for improving student learning, have acquired a reputation for innovation and leadership in their course area, and have completed a series of training sessions to prepare them to lead the virtual communities. Since participants will be expected to begin utilizing some of the new approaches with the help and encouragement of the virtual group, they should be committed to teaching a course in the targeted area during the Fall 2013 Semester.

 VCP Topics and Meeting Times

This year’s efforts are focusing on the introductory engineering science courses and the list below shows the course areas along with the co-leaders and the scheduled times for each virtual community:

Electric Circuits
Co-leaders are Lisa Huettel and Kenneth Connor
Meeting time is Thursday at 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. EST starting March 21, 2013 and running until May 16, 2013

Engineering Mechanics
Co-leaders are Brian Self and Edward Berger
Meeting time is Thursday at 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. EST starting April 3, 2013 and running until May 16, 2013

Co-leaders are John Chen and Milo Koretsky
Meeting time is Wednesday at 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST starting April 3, 2013 and running until May 23, 2013

Mass and Energy Balance
Co-leaders are Lisa Bullard and Richard Zollars
Meeting time is Thursday at 12:30 – 2:00 p.m. EST starting March 21, 2013 and running until May 16, 2013

Application Process

Interested individuals should complete the on-line application at https://www.research.net/s/asee-vcp_application_form. The application form asks individuals to describe their experience with introductory engineering science courses, to indicate their involvement in education research and development activities, to summarize any classroom experiences where they have tried something different in their classes, and to discuss their reasons for wanting to participate in the VCP.

The applicant’s Department Head or Dean needs to complete an on-line recommendation form to indicate plans for having the applicant teach the selected courses in the Fall 2013 Semester and to briefly discuss why participating in the VCP will be important to the applicant.

Since demonstrating that the VCP approach will benefit relatively inexperienced faculty, applicants do not need a substantial record of involvement in education research and development. For this reason, the applicant’s and the Department Head’s or Dean’s statements about the reasons for participating will be particularly important in selecting participants.

Application Deadline

Applications are due by February 8, 2013. The project team will review all applications and select a set of participants that are diverse in their experience, institutional setting, gender, and ethnicity.