The project is creating a virtual community of practice (VCP) model for professional development that enables faculty members to gain an understanding of research-based instructional approaches and to implement them in their classrooms. The VCP approach builds on: 1) existing face-to-face faculty development models, 2) engaging community of practice models, and 3) rapidly developing web-based social networking and content management tools.
The effort is using a two-tier structure; consisting of a first-tier Leadership VCP that is, in turn, training leaders of second-tier group of Faculty VCPs. The project is conducting two cycles of Leadership/Faculty VCPs within a two-year period, establishing twelve Faculty VCPs with 20 to 30 faculty members each. Five VCPs are initially being established that involve faculty who teach specific introductory engineering courses (electric circuits, mechanics, thermodynamics, digital logic, and mass transfer); while a sixth VCP is focusing on the NAE's Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) members. Each VCP meets weekly using Internet conferencing software and interacts asynchronously through a web portal. In order to identify VCP best practices, the project team is developing methods for characterizing the operation of VCP implementations and for relating the characterizations to effectiveness and impact. Subsequent topics will focus on specific course areas or pedagogical approaches that are selected from those proposed by the community.
The specific project goals are to: (1) establish a knowledgeable community of leaders committed to supporting faculty development VCPs; (2) establish twelve faculty VCPs organized to support participants as they explore and implement research-based instructional approaches; (3) develop approximately 300 faculty members that have gained a deeper understanding of these approaches and have implemented some of them in their courses; and (4) generate new knowledge about the factors that make VCPs effective and identify a set of best practices to guide future VCP implementation.
Engaging faculty members virtually - over a sustained period - moves well beyond conventional professional development models and offers a cost-effective, scalable approach for faculty development. The project is producing a knowledgeable and skilled community of leaders and implementers with a deeper understanding of and experience with research-based instructional approaches. The project is specifically recruiting faculty from minority serving institutions, including those that are involved as principal investigators in targeted NSF-funded projects (e.g., HBCU-UP, LSAMP, and CCLI/TUES). When scaled-up, the VCP approach has the potential to engage large numbers of faculty members in understanding and implementing engaging, authentic instructional approaches and, ultimately, will have a significant impact on classroom teaching practices. Through the involvement of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the premier engineering education society, the project has a significant presence at national engineering education meetings and is also developing plans to expand the VCP approach to other STEM communities.