VCU’s “Collaborative Curiosity” Course Highlighted in Upcoming MUJ

In issue 27.1 of Metropolitan Universities, Dr. Valerie Holton and her colleagues examine how Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a CUMU member institution, developed a centralized unit to strategically cultivate community engagement. Using Kotter’s model of change framework, Holton et al. present a case study describing how VCU’s Division of Community Engagement brought focus to the university’s community engaged work over a decade. The article highlights two recent initiatives of the Division that we want to highlight here.

As Dr. Holton stated in her recent MUJ editorial, the integral connection between metropolitan institutions and their surrounding communities “is seen in how we teach our students, how we generate new knowledge, and how we value and engage in service.” To better understand the significance of this connection, The Office of Community-Engaged Research, within VCU’s Division of Community Engagement is leading efforts to expand the university’s capacity to track and measure the impact of engagement. You can read more about these efforts in our last issue, for which Holton also served as the guest editor.

The Office of Community Engaged Research (CEnR), led by Dr. Holton, is also directing the Division’s involvement in building university-wide infrastructure to advance scholarship, research and creative activity that genuinely involves and benefits the community. To broaden awareness and prepare the next generation of scholars committed to CEnR, she and her colleague, Tessa McKenzie, developed and led a new graduate-level course, “Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research”. This 3 credit, eight-week online course provided students with the opportunity to explore the principles, methodology, and ethical considerations of CEnR. Taught initially in 2015 and scheduled again for the summer of 2016, this course helps students to develop strategies to create and maintain collaborative relationships while exploring techniques for data collection, analysis and the dissemination of findings to a broad array of audiences.

The “Collaborative Curiosity” course operates on the principle of “connected learning.” In this approach, students use digital technologies and internet tools to make connections and recognize patterns in information across subjects, places, and time. In a parallel approach to CEnR, this course allows participating students, faculty, and community members from VCU, Richmond, and around the globe the opportunity to engage with one another and to inform each other’s work. Participants use blogging, tweeting, Google Hangouts, and other connected learning tools to learn and apply best practices in CEnR and dissemination, to answer questions related to social problems of deep interest to the community, and to bring people together to accomplish work that has a greater impact.

Participation is not limited to enrolled students, who are the core membership of the class. Non-enrolled individuals can participate in all aspects of the class, and choose how involved they want to be. They can subscribe to the course’s social media accounts, access all course readings and assignments, and join or view archived Google Hangouts. All of the course material can be accessed online and free of charge through the website. Doctoral students may enroll in this course (CMST 691) for 3 credit hours at the current VCU tuition and fee rates. For a look at a summary and blooper reel from last year’s class, check out this video.

Commitment to this type of research distinguishes VCU from other top-tier research universities, and CUMU is proud to call VCU one of our own. For more information about the CEnR course, take a look at the course website and blog, email, or tweet @valerieholton using the hashtag #CuriousCoLab. Be sure to check out “The University Next Door: Developing a Centralized Unit that Strategically Cultivates Community Engagement at an Urban University in the upcoming MUJ issue!