In the summer of 2015, faculty in VCU’s Division of Community Engagement (DCE) first offered Collaborative Curiosity in an effort to introduce participants to the purpose, design, and practice of community engaged research. The instructors, Dr. Valerie Holton and Ms. Tessa McKenzie, partnered with instructional designers from VCU ALTLab, the university’s center for digital learning innovation, to create a course that would use a connected learning framework on the open web to allow university participants and interested members of the public to engage in a collaborative exploration of CEnR.


This course challenged participants’ underlying assumptions of community, scholarship, and collaborative relationships by asking them to create or engage in these concepts through publicly-available (open or free) social media. Participants learned in public while developing the digital fluency they need to engage with the public in their future work. Because the course was open for and invited public participation, it was, itself, an act of community engagement. The course has been offered twice, with 19 enrolled doctoral participants from multiple disciplines and over 200 non-enrolled participants, scholars and community members participating from around the United States and the world. Enrolled participants have reported that the course significantly advanced their knowledge of and confidence in CEnR as well as their digital fluency. Furthermore, they were actively engaged with the course material and developed new learning networks.


To facilitate community participation and engagement in the course, all course content and materials were freely available and accessible via the public course website. Panel discussions involving the course instructors and community leaders, organizers, and researchers were streamed and recorded via Google Hangouts, and posted on YouTube.  A public Diigo account allowed course participants to curate relevant articles, websites, and educational resources. Weekly synchronous class discussions took place in the open on Twitter using the course hashtag (#CuriousCoLab), and assignments were blogged on public personal websites on the WordPress platform. Assignments were of three types: “creative makes” invited learners to express their understanding of course concepts through visual art, music, or videos; “intellections” required reflection on personal learning and the differences between community-engaged research and more traditional research paradigms; and a research proposal for a CEnR project presented in blog format and addressing such issues as developing relationships, research questions, literature review, design, and dissemination. The visual syllabus created by the instructors and housed on the course website  provides an overview of the course objectives, guiding questions, activities, and desired outcomes.


Because of its innovative nature, Collaborative Curiosity captured the imagination of academic and educational research communities on a global scale. The course instructors and their ALTLab collaborators were asked to speak or write about the experience for large audiences that included nonprofit sector organizers, community engaged scholars, educational technologists, digital pedagogists, institutional researchers, and practitioners. A partial digital footprint of the course can be found in this Story Map.