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2013 January 27

Virtual Community of Practice for circuits

Mylène just posted about an interesting opportunity on her Shifting Phases blog: PD Opportunity: Research-based instruction in engineering science.  It seems that the American Society for Engineering Education has gotten grant funding to create five “virtual communities of practice” in electric circuits, mechanics, thermodynamics,  mass & energy balance, and whatever NAE’s Frontier of Engineering Education (FOEE) is.  They describe the program of  VCPs at

I envision these as being like the Global Physics Department (which I sometimes manage to attend), but without the grassroots energy and more bureaucratic.  Still, I could use such a community, as I’ve been fumbling my way through the creation of the Applied Circuits course for Bioengineers for the past 7 months, with only occasional support from my co-instructor (who is very willing to help but is overloaded) and online comments from Mylène.

The EE Department tenure-track faculty here have not been supportive of my course—some have been actively hostile to having their turf invaded, and none of them seem particularly interested in the idea of a lab-centric circuits course nor of design concepts in a circuits course.  I don’t feel I can ask them about which misconceptions to expect, how to create design problems that are both doable and interesting, how to teach circuits concepts, or even which concepts are the most important ones.

One of the leaders of the Circuits VCP, Lisa Huettel, appears to have quite relevant experience that could have helped me enormously, according to the brief bio posted for her, as she “led the development of the first-year course, Fundamentals of ECE, which provides a broad yet rigorous introduction to ECE, using an extensive design-oriented laboratory experience to integrate concepts ranging from circuit design to signal processing and control theory.”

Unfortunately, the eligibility criteria for the VCPs are quite narrow, so I doubt that I’ll be welcome (unlike the Global Physics Department, for example, which is a much less good fit for me since I’m only home-schooling physics, but which was quite welcoming).  The particular criterion that is limiting my participation is that you need to be teaching the relevant course in Fall 2013, but I’m scheduled for the circuits class now (Winter 2013) and next spring (Spring 2014).  They seem quite set on this requirement (requiring confirmation by the “Department Head or Dean … confirming this teaching assignment”). I suppose this sort of bureaucratic rigidity is to be expected in a top-down program funded by NSF, but it is disappointing.

I can’t change the circuits course from Spring to Fall to meet their arbitrary criterion, because I have to teach the bioinformatics core course for our grad students and the how-to-be-a-grad-student course, both of which need to be Fall quarter.  Also, we wanted to have the Applied Circuits course in a different quarter than the EE circuits courses, which are scheduled for Fall and Winter.

I’ve sent e-mail to the organizer of the VCPs, to find out if the program really is as rigid as the application form makes it sound, or if  they could let me in.  If they really are that rigid, I’ll just have to continue muddling through on my own, at least until someone like Mylène sets up a “Global Circuits Department” that I can join.


  1. Global Circuits Department — wonderful idea! Can’t take on another project right now but I’ll be on deferred leave next January. This would be a fantastic thing to incorporate into my four months off. If I get accepted into the VCP, it could be a template that would work or be modifiable. I don’t want to make promises prematurely but I will start exploring the feasibility.

    Comment by Mylène — 2013 January 27 @ 18:22 | Reply

    • I’m glad you find the idea attractive, as I doubt that I could create a Global Circuits Department (no one comes to my parties), but I think that one ought to exist.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 January 27 @ 18:39 | Reply

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