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What is a Collaborative Exploration?

Massively online open courses (MOOCs) promise many access to knowledge and new expansive learning communities. In this exciting new realm of learning, there is still a need for more intimate, connective and deep inquiries that are not always possible within emerging MOOC environments. Collaborative Explorations or "moderately open online collaborative learning" are a response to these learning desires.

Collaborative Explorations (CE) are an extension of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and related approaches to education that begin from a real-world scenario or case in which the problems are not well defined. This design leads participants to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and teachers (in the broadest sense of the word). The basic mode of a CE centers on interactions in small groups (online or face-to-face) over a delimited period of time in ways that create an experience of re-engagement with oneself as an avid learner and inquirer.

How does Collaborative Exploration work?

Each online CE takes place over 22 days and consists of four sessions spaced one week apart, in which the same small group interacts in real time live via the internet for 60 minutes. Participants spend time between sessions on self-directed inquiry on the case. This time often is sharing inquiries-in-progress with their small group and the wider CE community and reflecting on the process (which typically involves shifts in participants' definition of what they want to find out and how).

There is no assumption that participants will pursue the case beyond the limited duration of the CE. The tools and processes used in CEs for inquiry, dialogue, reflection, and collaboration are designed to be readily learned by participants. Participants are encouraged to translate these into their own settings to support the inquiries of others.

A public google+ community, open beyond the small group, allows interested people to view and respond to any posts posted by the small group, which may, in turn, draw on them in their private discussions. The structure of each live CE session is predefined, but the CE builds in room for participants to take stock so as to inform future proposals for improvements in these structures.

How much time does each Collaborative Exploration take?

Each collaborative explorations ask participants to attend four, one-hour weekly online synchronous Google Hangouts. Participants should are asked to spend one-hour between each Hangout exploring resources and developing independent inquiries into the topic. The synchronous session day and time is arranged to fit the schedules of applicants, but often 9-10am, 4-5, 5-6 or 6-7pm to maximize the coverage of international time zones.

Prospective participants are asked not to sign up if they cannot guarantee live participation in most of the sessions and an equivalent amount of time between sessions spent on the case. (Sessions will be available as a private unlisted youtube for participants who have to miss once.)

Who is behind these Collaborative Explorations?

Collaborative Explorations are offered by members of the Critical and Creative Thinking graduate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston (http://www.cct.umb.edu). Faculty members, staff, students and alums of the program form a critical core of those participating and facilitating these learning experiences. CEs support and build community beyond the formal program of studies and engage others outside of the program in deep and meaningful self-directed learning inquiries.