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Virtual Communities For Engineers

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

A Focus on Industry Partnership

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1279.1 - 8.1279.13

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Paper Authors

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Tara Gallus

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Phil Laplante

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Peter Wiesner

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2322

VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AND THE TECHNICAL PROFESSIONAL Peter Wiesner, Phil Laplante, Matt Loeb, Tara Gallus IEEE / Penn State, Great Valley / IEEE / IEEE


In 2001, IEEE began to experiment with the use of virtual communities to support the work of its volunteers who are involved in education, publications, standards development, and committee work. Virtual communities are making it possible to engage professionals on a global basis. They encourage cross cutting disciplines. They make it possible for engineers to tackle issues of great societal importance, such as social responsibility and sustainability.

The IEEE, the IEE and other organizations are steadily gaining experience in the use of the tools provided by virtual communities software that includes the ability to post, share, discuss, and review information. The National Science Foundation is already using virtual communities for collaboration and is also greatly interested in their use to facilitate the dissemination of funded projects.

At this time, IEEE has a dozen communities, the most active one being the community on Power and Energy. Dozens of communities are planned and under development, several in cooperation with other professional associations. This paper focuses on the costs, issues, opportunities, and challenges based on the experience of IEEE and other professional organizations that have used them to serve technical professionals. It will analyze several virtual communities in light of a literature review pertinent to engineering. It will raise issues and suggest areas for further inquiry.


Professional associations are all about creating communities. Although primarily known as an early inventor who experimented with electricity leading to the invention of the lightening rod, Benjamin Franklin was also famous for being an educator who in 1727 organized “juntas” or discussion groups for exchanging ideas and discoveries.1 Scientists and engineers through the world have created learned associations to exchange ideas and practices. Today, professional associations came to be an important part of the educational landscape through the creation of communities of practice sustained through meetings, publications, lectures, short courses and standards development.

Traditionally, professional associations build communities through face-to-face meetings. Modern communications, however, has facilitated this process, first through publications,

“Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Gallus, T., & Laplante, P., & Wiesner, P. (2003, June), Virtual Communities For Engineers Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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