Open CoLab Spurs Engagement, Innovation, and Inquiry

Students Sitting in CoLab

“We have to think about learning as a process of engagement rather than as a transaction,” says Professor Robin DeRosa. As director of the University’s Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative, DeRosa is employing a range of strategies that aim to embed this insight more fully into Plymouth State’s teaching and learning. 

The “CoLab,” launched in 2019 and located in the Lamson Learning Commons, is a dynamic hub of activities, workshops, and presentations. A major area of focus is the development of Cluster Learning, through which faculty pioneer and refine strategies that are taking advantage of the University’s Integrated Clusters learning model. 

The foundations of Cluster Learning include interdisciplinarity and integration, project-based work that extends beyond the walls of the classroom, and open education that emphasizes both reducing barriers to higher education and increasing students’ access to knowledge creation. It draws from PSU’s exclusive formulation of Open Pedagogy, the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply as consumers. DeRosa is recognized nationally for her expertise in this field. 

The CoLab is also home to the University’s Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Program, which allows students to creatively tailor their studies to achieve personal and professional goals. “Our program is fueled by connected learning and open pedagogy,” says its director, Matthew Cheney. “Students use technologies to build networks with their scholarly and professional communities of practice, and they design their own web space for publishing their work and inviting collaborators to engage with their ideas.” 

In the summer of 2019, the CoLab launched the Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community, a group of more than 70 faculty, staff, and administrators who are taking a deeper dive into teaching and learning at PSU. The professional development series is part of a three-year program made possible by a grant from the Trustees of the Davis Educational Foundation for implementing Cluster Learning in the University’s General Education Program. 

DeRosa notes the continuing impact of PSU’s heritage as a former teachers college with a history of embracing modern methods. “We’re being innovative while still being mindful of the quite extensive experience that a lot of our faculty bring to teaching and learning.” 

Student energy and talents are harnessed and developed, as well. Students with strong work ethic, superior communication skills, and curiosity about technology, teaching and learning, and higher ed issues are encouraged to apply for hire into specific annual project-based cohorts through the CoLab’s Student Affiliates (CoSA) Program. 

“We have about a dozen students working right now on various projects through CoSA,” says DeRosa. “The areas of focus include IDS Peer Mentoring, Cluster Learning, and faculty/staff development, digital and open learning consultation, graphic design for the CoLab, and videography to support an enrollment and persistence initiative.” 

New offerings planned for 2020 include the CoLab Faculty Affiliates (CoFAs), a mentorship and development program for experienced faculty who will focus on advancing their colleagues’ knowledge and skills by working closely with CoLab staff to orient the campus to Cluster Learning. The affiliates will also support individual faculty members as they innovate around pedagogy and share emerging practices and ideas about education with PSU and external communities. 

Plymouth State’s Cluster transformation is prompting inquiries from colleges and universities across the nation, and as PSU continues to evolve, we can expect the CoLab to lead the way. In recent months, the CoLab team has hosted visits from the director of information technology for the California State University System, faculty from Lakes Region Community College, and the staff of the Digital Learning and Inquiry Lab at Middlebury College. “We open our doors to colleagues in order to share our practices and learn about how local, regional, and national programs and initiatives are shaping current higher education,” says DeRosa. 

Upcoming CoLab events range from Zine Week (participants will be assembling a collaboration of works written by faculty on current Cluster Learning topics), webinars on how to “ungrade” courses, and advice for student advisors.  

Visit Open CoLab Live for complete information.