Twitterpation; Community-Engaged Research in an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum? [#CuriousCoLab]

Twitterpation (Twitter + participation * twitterpated)

This past week I participated in the VCU Institute for Inclusive Teaching, and so my engagement on Twitter for the Collaborative Curiosity course took a backseat. It was insightful to compare my real-time participation on Twitter during the institute, which used the hashtag #VCUIIT15, with the catching up I did with the #CuriousCoLab conversations. I’m especially grateful for the Storify summaries of the discussions I was absent for. (Thanks, team!) What a fantastic tool for archiving snapshots of exchanges on Twitter. During the institute I was retweeting and favoriting to create within my profile the same kind of account that was produced retrospectively using Storify. I like how tweets build up a record that I and others can refer to later; they become communal reflections that supplement the individual notes I take. I retweet and favorite to bring in insights voiced by others to stand beside my own ideas. This week I realized that this active curation can be performed or appreciated even from a temporal remove. That is an important understanding, since I’ve been frustrated before when I feel like I’ve fallen behind on Twitter. Now that I know I can yield control and still reap benefits, maybe I will be more comfortable dropping in and out of Twitter conversations. With that, I believe I can better take advantage of Twitter as a tool for emergent discussions, when in the past I have used it primarily for posting links.


Community-Engaged Research in an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Curriculum?

I also wanted to take this opportunity to describe two questions that have come out of following the course so far. Answering them, I expect, will be my ongoing investigation in the weeks ahead, in lieu of a project-centered research proposal that those taking the course for credit will craft. Both questions are important because they will help me build a bridge from my existing community-engaged pedagogy to  community-engaged research. I’m interested in my service-learning course opening on to research opportunities, rather than designing a research proposal from the ground up.

My first question is what does community-engaged research look like as an interdisciplinary practice? Thus far it appears that most CEnR leverages disciplinary or field-specific knowledge in collaborations with community partners. I explore a broad topic, namely technology and design, in my partnerships with a variety of community organizations. I don’t see myself as bringing specialized research methodologies, and for me investigating the needs of the community takes precedence over outcome-driven objectives.

Second, what are the benefits of introducing undergraduates to community-engaged research, and how is it best to do so? My students design an inquiry whereby their service experience serves as evidence alongside their research from traditional sources. Are there relatively simple concepts relating to CEnR that would help these undergraduates focus their projects? I’m working within an already demanding shared curriculum and must be sure that this addition has a clear payoff, even when students begin developing their inquiries before they thoroughly get to know their partners and the populations they serve.

About the author


Dr. Matthew James Vechinski is an associate professor in the Department of Focused Inquiry at Virginia Commonwealth University. His teaching draws on his interest in process-based writing instruction, communication design, and service-learning. His research centers on authors’ relationships with editors and publishers, with a particular focus on writers of short fiction for American periodicals as well as postmodern and contemporary experimental novelists. He has also written on design, collecting, and social media.


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  • Hi there! I am one of the graduate students working with the course instructors. Increasing our understanding of what undergraduate CEnR might look like is one of our office goals. We may have some resources related to undergraduate CEnR competencies available around the end of summer. Keep an eye out for this, or feel free to stay in touch!

    • That’s great news, Jen! I’m glad undergraduate CEnR is on the office’s radar. I look forward to seeing what resources you’re able to assemble, and I’ll share what I find that might help translate CEnR to undergrads and their instructors.

      • And just to add to that … We are also wondering what undergraduate CEnR should and could look like. For the second year the DCE and CCTR have offered CEnR UROP fellowships, but honestly, we are still trying to figure out what is fair to expect. And by fair, I mean reasonable to the students and responsible to community partners. We are offering a CEnR undergrad course related to the bike race this year. And we have a student working on a literature review. Would LOVE to have your ideas on what you think it important. Any initial thoughts?

        In thinking about your interest in internet-based stuff … check out Eric Gordon’s stuff and

        And, I’m glad you brought up the interdisciplinary question. It seems to me that is an issue we are trying to deal with across the academy. Michael Crow (, whose big thing is designing the new American university talks about getting rid of the discipline structure. While I don’t know if I’d go that far, it does make cross-discipline work challenging.

        • Thanks for sharing your insights, Valerie! Gordon’s research seems fascinating—I can’t wait to investigate it further. I’ll watch for the CEnR bike race course, too. Will that be open beyond those taking the course for credit?

          I’m thinking that principles of CEnR might help undergraduates develop research projects that are open to discovery rather than those that confirm basic hypotheses they already hold, which is a major objective of the Focused Inquiry curriculum. But it could be tricky to introduce this to students early in the research process, when they might not have enough information about and experience with their community partners and the issues they address. I offer some service-learning opportunities where students are proposing or taking up particular initiatives, which would seem to naturally fit with CEnR. The challenge, then, would be documentation and analysis of their service that would have to go beyond reflection and yet mesh with library research. That’s a lot to juggle!

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