Virtual community of practice: Electric circuits
Disseminating effective practices for engineering education requires developing pedagogical communities that bring together faculty from many institutions. Through an NSF-funded ASEE effort aimed at facilitating faculty development in research-based instruction, we led an online Virtual Community of Practice (VCP) around the teaching of introductory Electric Circuits. The VCP comprised 20 faculty members who were broadly diverse in terms of geography, institutional characteristics, and teaching experience. Meetings were held using Adobe Connect, with materials shared and discussions held through an online portal built with Open Atrium. This platform carried many advantages - such as allowing a large group to interact and view a common presentation, while also facilitating smaller break-out groups - but it also posed logistic issues inherent into any use of technology for group interactions. Leaders of the circuits VCP - Along with VCPs on other topics in electrical engineering - were trained by a Leadership VCP in advance of its sessions. The Electric Circuits VCP consisted of 9 weekly 90-minute sessions during Spring 2013, each including learning objectives and an assignment for participants. There were also 5 sessions during Fall 2013. Breakout groups within each session promoted interactions among subsets of the participants; these were critical for encouraging broad participation, with each breakout group reporting back to the full VCP afterward. Pre-planned topics included (1) Introduction to the Circuits VCP, (2) Overview of Research-based Instructional Approaches, (3) Learning Objectives and Bloom's Taxonomy, (4) Student Motivation, (5) Teams, and (6) & (7) Making the Classroom More Interactive. The topics for sessions (8) and (9) were developed by our VCP community during preceding weeks: (8) Simulation and Hands-On Learning, Assessing Impact; (9) Great Ideas that Flopped. In addition to the weekly meetings of the entire VCP, participants interacted via ad hoc small-group meetings, email and polling to collect opinions and ideas, and additional material provided after each session. Nearly all participants reported that they are making significant changes in their Circuits courses based on their VCP experience. Topics that elicited the most interest from the participants, based on their post-VCP feedback, were: (1) Flipped Classrooms; (2) Hands-On Learning based on Inexpensive Measurement Hardware; (3) Assessment. Participants are also developing topics for collaborative research and a workshop to share what they have learned with faculty from other institutions. Leaders in implementing flipped classrooms, MOOCs, and other new pedagogy have also been invited to work with the group both offline and during regular meetings. The VCP model proved to be effective at establishing a diverse pedagogical community, without the resource and time constraints of regular in-person meetings. There are still some limitations, however. Those faculty who are particularly dedicated to undergraduate instruction - And thus are the best candidates to participate in a VCP -often have limited time for activities that may not have immediate impact on their daily responsibilities. Also, interactions in large online groups may not suffice to promote a strong working relationship. Based on the personal experience of the authors, a substantive collaboration requires regular online face- To-face interaction followed by additional electronic exchanges as materials are finalized. Despite these limitations, our initial implementation of the VCP model provides a guide for other groups to create similar virtual communities for other aspects of engineering education. © American Society for Engineering Education, 2014.
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