A Piece of the Puzzle

a bookI like puzzles. I do. I enjoy the challenge of examining each piece, determining how it relates to the others – all the while having the “big picture” in mind. It requires intense concentration, an eye for detail, strategy and – above all – patience.

The end result of every puzzle is the same: all the pieces should fit together snugly, but not overlap, to reveal a picture or coherent whole.

This course is both a puzzle in itself and part of a larger puzzle.

Here at VCU we are building the infrastructure within our university to support community-engaged research (CEnR). But unlike a puzzle that begins in a cardboard box, we’re not beginning with a complete set of pieces. Nor are we exactly sure what the final result will look like. We do know that this class is a piece of the puzzle.

So, before I reflect on what picture we might reveal, let’s look at this piece: our CEnR course. Like all puzzle pieces, it is similar to other pieces. A couple of years ago we looked for CEnR courses at VCU. We found some courses that touched upon issues related to CEnR, including one explicitly focused on an intensive form of CEnR: community-based participatory research (CBPR). Dr. Maghboeba Mosavel, an expert and funded community-engaged researcher, teaches that course: SBHD 636 – Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR). It is offered through the Department of Social and Behavioral Health typically during the spring semester.

But in our search, we didn’t find a course that gave an overall treatment of the CEnR framework. This is one of the ways our CEnR course is distinct. It is an interdisciplinary course, aimed at doctoral students. Perhaps its most distinctive and exciting feature is that it is designed as a connected learning experience. The course will be open to anyone looking to exchange ideas and learn from others about CEnR, no matter where they are within the university or around the globe. That’s because it is a MOOC. Those who are enrolled as students in the course at VCU will receive course credit, and the skills to prepare them to take more advanced courses like SBHD 636.

What are the other pieces of the puzzle that are already in the cardboard box? I’ll describe that in a future post. Ultimately this class is for anyone who believes that each of us has a piece of the puzzle.

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