Peer Review

LEAPing into Open Learning ’17

It started with a combinatorial disposition, a taste for what Douglas Hofstadter calls “fluid concepts and creative analogies” (1996). Virginia has been a LEAP state since 2007, so it was natural that the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) would join the Faculty Collaboratives. As a Phase 2 Faculty Collaboratives state, Virginia took the opportunity to contribute something distinctive to the initiative.

Virginia’s Innovation Hub

Since 2014, Virginia has embraced the cause of Open Educational Resources. Virginia’s new Open Education Advisory Committee seeks to explore the many varieties of Open Education, including Open Access and Open Pedagogical Practices. In a similar vein, Virginia’s Faculty Collaboratives “innovation hub” focuses on the fluid concept of “open” in education and looked for connections, creative analogies, and combinatorial possibilities among what Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek puckishly called the “fifty shades of open” (2016). Our hope was that this approach would also illuminate the idea and ideals of liberal education.

With encouragement and seed funding from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), liaison leadership from SCHEV, a steering committee of varied stakeholders from across Virginia, and several months of brainstorming and planning, a plan emerged. Virginia’s innovation hub would not only collect resources but also produce them. It would be a conversation hub, a learning hub, and a creativity hub. It would foster connections among educators in Virginia and reach outward to other networks of educators involved in the many varieties of open education. It would find synergies. The innovation hub would attempt to combine the energies, goals, and conceptual framework of liberal education as articulated in LEAP with the energies, research, and commitment of open educators everywhere. And it would begin this process with a bootstrapping exercise called “Open Learning ’17,” a fourteen-week learning experience designed as a connectivist MOOC (cMOOC), immersing its participants in the study and experience of what the Steering Committee called “all the opens, connected.”

Sharing Resources with the World

Participation statistics demonstrate the energies of these communities. Nearly fifty participants’ blog sites are syndicated into the main hub via RSS (“really simple syndication”). Most participants are in Virginia, but quite a few have joined from other states. One participant is from Cairo, Egypt. From those participants have come well over three hundred blog posts, including reflections, video interviews and panel discussions, and Storified Twitter chats. Using the open-source web-annotation platform, participants have linked over 250 annotations to the course readings. Over 4,000 unique tweets with the course hashtag #openlearning17 have been contributed, embedding over 2,000 hyperlinks that share resources with the world.

Figure 1 depicts an interactive display of these tweets, organized by user and viewable through a timeline, developed by Martin Hawksey of the UK’s Open University. Like all the infrastructure and resources at, Hawksey’s “Twitter Explorer” is open source and freely available. Indeed, one of the things Open Learning ’17 sought to demonstrate was how free or low-cost platforms like WordPress, Twitter, and Google Forms could support a rich set of resources across a network of individual learners. These platforms represent vital elements of the “digital ecosystem” as well as the “digital opportunity” described by Randy Bass and Bret Eynon in their 2016 AAC&U publication, Open and Integrative: Designing Liberal Education for the New Digital Ecosystem. In fact, this publication, with the authors’ participation, was the capstone text.

Figure 1. Screenshot of Twitter Tags Explorer at

Virginia Twitter Tags

Resources, reflections, design principles, and a complete assessment report are visible at the hub site, This site will be home to what the steering committee plans for our next steps: curation, ongoing conversation and creation, and a continued exploration of synergies between open education and AAC&U’s many LEAP programs, all focused through the goals of the Faculty Collaboratives project.


Bass, Randy, and Bret Eynon. 2016. Open and Integrative: Designing Liberal Education for the New Digital Ecosystem. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Hofstadter, Douglas, and the Fluid Concepts Research Group. 1996. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies. New York: Basic Books.

Pomertanz, Jeffery, and Robin Peek. 2016. “Fifty Shades of Open.” First Monday. April.

Gardner Campbell, Associate Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University; and Beverly Covington, Senior Associate for Academic Affairs, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

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