Collaborative Exploration

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Collaborative Explorations (CEs) are an extension of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and related approaches to education in which participants address a scenario or case in which the problems are not well defined, shaping your own directions of inquiry and developing your skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word).

The basic mode of a CE centers on interactions in small groups over a delimited period of time, designed to sustain the face-to-face PBL experience of re-engagement with yourself as an avid learner and inquirer. An online CE consists of live sessions for an hour over 4 weeks and exchanges on a private community between sessions.

(For more background, read the prospectus or watch a general preview of the CE process below.)


The day and time for the live session is arranged to fit the schedules of those who register--often 9-10am, 4-5, 5-6 or 6-7pm to maximize the coverage of international time zones.
Teaching about scientific and political change in times of crisis—Have we been sharing an outdated progressive imaginary about citizen engagement in science working with developments in social institutions to provide for the welfare of the populace?
Specific topics in the teaching of scientific and political change in which to explore and share emerging theory and research:
Jan-Feb, Science-policy connections to improve responses to extreme climatic events.
Feb-Mar, Rise and fall of grassroots or citizen initiatives in shaping the directions taken in science and technology.
Mar-Apr, U.S. versus Europe concerning the building of infrastructure built so that to make new genetic knowledge useful.
Apr-May, Teach and engage others to participate in questioning and shaping the direction of scientific and social changes.
(Schedule, Past & Future, including CEs on critical, creative & reflective practice)


Anyone who registers via, which entails a commitment to attend the first live session and at least two of the other three live sessions. There is no assumption that participants will pursue the case beyond the limited duration of the CE.

CEs have been initiated by the Critical and Creative Thinking graduate program and the Science in a Changing World graduate track at the University of Massachusetts Boston. To date, faculty members, staff, students and alums of the UMass programs form a reliable core of those participating and facilitating these learning experiences.


The live sessions happen as a google+ hangout, with the URL for the hangout supplied to everyone who has registered. Hangout participation requires a headset, a google+ or gmail account, installation of the audio and video plugins, and a reliable internet connection (preferably not wifi). It also requires being ready to start by the set time and muting your mic when not talking.

During the live sessions, there is a lot of listening to others, starting off with autobiographical stories that make it easier to trust and take risks with whoever has joined the particular CE. There will also be writing to gather your thoughts, sometimes privately, sometimes shared. Between sessions exchanges happen on a private google+ community with optional postings to the corresponding public community, You should spend at least an hour between live sessions on your own inquiries into the issues. Over the course of the CE, you can expect what you want to find out evolve as you pursue your own inquiries and learn from those of others.
(More details of Getting set up technically and the Session Structure)


Whatever thread of inquiry you pursue in any specific CE, your posts and contribution to live sessions should aim to stimulate and guide the learning of other participants, and build towards the final tangible product described in the scenario. The complementary, "experiential" goal is to be impressed at how much can be learned with a small commitment of time using the CE structure to motivate and connect participants. Moreover, the tools and processes used in CEs for inquiry, dialogue, reflection, and collaboration are designed to be readily learned by participants so they can translate them into their own settings to support the inquiries of others.

In contrast to MOOCs (massive open online courses), which seek to get masses of people registered knowing that a tiny fraction will complete it, a CE focuses on establishing effective learning in small online communities then potentially scaling up from there. CEs aim to address the needs of online learners who want to: dig deeper, make “thicker” connections with other learners; connect topics with their own interests; participate for shorter periods than a semester-long MOOC; learn without needing credits or badges given for MOOC completion. In short, online CEs aim to be "moderately open online collaborative learning."

For the initiators of CEs at UMass Boston, the goal is support and build community beyond the formal programs of study and engage others outside of the programs in deep and meaningful self-directed learning inquiries.