VCU offers an open online course on community-engaged research

This summer, Virginia Commonwealth University is practicing what it teaches by offering a connected-learning online course in community-engaged research — and it’s open to everyone.

“Community-engaged research is all about collaboration,” said Valerie Holton, Ph.D., director of community-engaged research in the VCU Division of Community Engagement. “It’s all about incorporating different voices and perspectives, which helps us get to the best outcomes.”

This type of research, in which VCU is a nationally recognized leader, holds the goal of contributing to both academic disciplines and the community by incorporating input from all stakeholders.

Just as the class subject matter will focus on inclusive principles of research, the class structure will encourage wider engagement.

Students, faculty and community members from VCU, Richmond and around the globe are invited to join the eight-week doctoral-level class, CMST 691: Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community-Engaged Research. For credit, doctoral students will pay tuition, but anyone else is welcome to participate in the class for free.

“We want community partners to participate, we want people from other universities to participate and we want people internationally to participate, because only through that will we get to a place where we truly have a collaborative learning experience that parallels what we do in community-engaged research,” Holton said.

Consistent with the principles of connected learning, participants will learn about community-engaged research through interest-driven and engaged-learning activities. Students will use several online tools, including blogging, tweeting, shared libraries, and live interviews.

Participants will learn how to identify diverse research partners and involve them in designing and conducting effective research, they will write grant proposals and participate in peer grant reviews, and they will work together to create an app that helps connect community-engaged researchers with community partners.

Holton will lead the class with Tessa McKenzie, research coordinator in the VCU Division of Community Engagement.

The VCU Academic Learning Transformation Lab will be an important partner in the success of the class. The Alt Lab has worked alongside Holton and McKenzie to provide pedagogical and logistical support around implementing the ideas of connected learning. This involved an ongoing discussion around what connected learning is — meaning participatory and embedded in the larger community in which we live — and how a course in community-engaged research might promote it.

Laura Gogia, a Ph.D. student in the research and evaluation track in the VCU School of Education, is a graduate fellow at the ALT Lab. Information from the Collaborative Curiosity course will contribute to her dissertation on connected learning. Results hopefully will inform Holton, McKenzie and others moving forward in the best ways to document student connectedness in connected-learning environments and in ways to help people participate more fully and effectively.

“By learning in open networks such as this one, participants can form relationships and dialogues with people who are outside their immediate community,” she said. “It allows you to amplify your signal. This is not just a project for a course, it is something you can be working on in real time in authentic ways.”

Holton thinks that real-time work this summer will inform many important questions for people across campus, the country and the world.

“How do you work with someone outside of the university? How do you have that cross-cultural experience? How do you think about power and dynamics?” she said. “For us to ask these questions by ourselves in the classroom can be limiting. A connected course gives us an opportunity to have a dialogue within the course and outside of the course with all sorts of different voices.”

Anyone interested in participating in the course, which begins May 18, can visit Division of Community Engagement - CMST 691 or email To follow the course on Twitter, use #CuriousCoLab (course-specific) and #VCUCEnR (general).


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This ​3 credit-hour, doctoral-level, online course provides students with tools to explore the principles and methodology of community-engaged research (CEnR) through connected learning and social media​. Prerequisite: previous graduate-level research methods ​coursework We welcome ​all people interested in partnering in ​researcher to participate in this unique learning experience.