Gathering your scholarly community online: B-EER in a Nutshell!

This blog post highlights opportunities I see for building research capacity and sense of community — for networking and sharing knowledge among academics. We’ve being doing some fun and interesting things in Engineering Education Research (EER) and I’m posting help transfer some of this learning to other subfields of education. 

I’ll summarize what we’ve been doing to build community and share knowledge across the EER community globally. Fun communal learning activities have included small group chats, REEN working meetings, MCAA-UK social events, IFEES GEDC online seminars, and of course, the Big EER Meet Up (B-EER)!

Small group chats

I’ve been learning new things everyday, particularly through text chats with Drs. Inês Direito in London, Lelanie Smith in Pretoria SA, and Carlos Efren Mora in the Canary Islands of Spain.

We’re applying the sorts of knowledge-sharing and group-building techniques discussed in a TU Dublin staff training session yesterday. From a colleague’s comment, I found tips from Arizona State University for helping students build a sense of community. I even passed it along to my partner Aongus as he’s starting a certification course online soon and can benefit from the tips; like me, he enjoys classroom interaction and will miss that studying online.

Inês and lelanie, Carlos and I have been chatting virtually about mutual research interests, teaching and student-engagement techniques, and grants for over a year now. We mentor each other.

REEN collaboration

Our Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) Board meets online every month so we’d already gotten pretty good at sharing ideas this way. We share video, audio, and text chat using, currently, MS Teams. We put our agenda in Google Docs and make revisions, converting them into minutes, together online as we meet.

I’m proud to serve as the Chair of REEN, which helps bring the global community of engineering education researchers together through symposia, special focus journal publications, and focused events to build knowledge, capacity/agency, and a sense of community.

The Governing Board is responsible for implementing the mission and goals of REEN by providing strategic direction, continuity, and overall leadership. Each representative serves a four-year term. The main commitment is a 1-hour meeting (held online) once a month, and members are asked also to provide a bit of time between monthly meetings for project work such as: supporting the symposium (e.g., reviewing abstracts and papers), development of special focus journal issues, or serving on special-focus ad hoc subcommittees. We currently have a call for two new positions. Please see our official call document.

REEN recently helped organize the B-EER Meet Up, described at the bottom of this post. We see it as a great way to bring our global EER community together and galvanize connections! 

MCAA-UK socials

Being at home more means I’ve had better chance to attend meetings outside Ireland. I’m in the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) and have been attending meetings and online socials of the MCAA Chapter in the UK the past couple months. Leaders of MCAA-UK introduced me to the paper that I used as inspiration for my B-EER coffee chat featured in an earlier post.

Our May 20th online social of the MCAA-UK

IFEES GEDC online seminars

I’ve also attended several of the now-weekly IFEES GEDC online seminars, featuring well-known and highly accomplished scholars in EER. These are big, high-profile events with up to 500 participants each. There are usually people waiting at the “door” to get in after they’ve reached maximum capacity. At the end, a few people get to ask questions, but there’s not much room to interact in this forum. Nevertheless, I’m getting to hear speakers I couldn’t otherwise (during the teaching semester at least), because I wouldn’t be able to travel to them!

A fascinating recent lecture was on “Problem-based Megaprojects” conducted at Aalborg University. The presentation was by Drs. Anette Kolmos and Lykke Brogaard Berte.

B-EER Meet Up

I haven’t actually summarized the outcome of the Bigg EER Meet Up that I announced for registration in early May. So here you go!

We held our first Big EER Meet Up online throughout the day on May 14th, 2020. The event was spearheaded by Professor John Mitchell, a Director of the Centre for Engineering Education at University College London (UCL). Co-sponsors included REEN and other organizations near and dear to my heart — including TU Dublin’s CREATE research group, Virginia Tech, and UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) — as well as Aalborg University’s Centre for PBL, Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education, the Technological University of Malaysia (UTM), and the University of Western Australia (UWA). You can view introductory information on a previous post.

We put this event together in just two weeks, and 550 people registered! The event included seven keynotes — mostly early career researchers (ECRs) and one emeritus professor — and seven break out sessions. We had close to 250 attend each keynote session, and the breakout (coffee break) sessions ranged from about 35 to 90. One session was still going with 60 people in it two hours later! You can access a compilation of the recorded keynote sessions and abstract of coffee chats on a UCL webpage.

I previously posted a blog about one of the keynotes, on Grit in Engineering.

Below is a screenshot of a super-interesting presentation by Dr. Kerrie Douglas of Purdue University, reporting her research on Student Experience and Social Supports in Online Engineering Courses During COVID-19.

Research on post-COVID student experience by Dr Kerrie Douglas of Purdue University. You can view her presentation at https://youtu.be/eZ6pMFWgIq4

I’d say the event was a big success! Productively informal, well attended, with lots of positive vibe and momentum. This is the type of community I want to build and be part of! Yes, there’s room for critical perspectives, but we truly are about lifting each other and the quality of our work UP, as a way to better serve students and one another.

Prof. John Mitchell believes “our best work comes in the discussions and so this was a deliberate attempt to promote that”. After the event, several early and mid-career research told me this provided an introduction to the EER community, good networking, and ability to attend as they can’t always afford the time and costs of attending EER conferences in person (many have technical conferences to attend and fund as well).

Evidently, this Meet Up format helped a gap by providing a more casual and interactive option, online and at low cost. Thanks so much, UCL, for funding the event!

Dr. Karrie Douglas answering questions following her online presentation.

We’ve decided to keep building the capacity of this community by keeping the Meet Ups rolling.

We now envision hosting a mini Meet Up every 4-6 weeks during Work From Home periods, to be organized primarily by UCL and REEN. I’ve recommended this condensed version be just one “slot” long and that it rotate between the three slots we used previously (starting at 11:30 PM, 11 AM, and 4 PM BST to comfortably involve people in all time zones). I’ve recommended that we hold a Big EER Meet Up every 6-12 months as well.

Mini Meet Ups will likely include 2-3 keynotes with at least half featuring early career researchers, then one mid- to late-career researcher presenting per Meet Up to help draw a bigger audience. 

We’re now planning a mini Meet Up for International Women in Engineering on the 23rd June — an EER session with a focus on diversity in engineering. Stay tuned!

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