The Great VCU Bike Race Book

Imagine your university was going to shut down for a whole week within the first month of the semester because the UCI Road World (bicycling) Championships was overtaking your city. Residential students could stay in their residence halls, but classrooms were to be closed and traveling to campus would be extremely difficult for non-residential students. Next, imagine you are charged with considering how you might turn that situation into one or more learning experiences. The World Wide Web to the rescue, #amiright?

The Great VCU Bike Race Book (#vcubrb) was borne of this opportunity (and, mainly from the brilliant mind of Gardner Campbell). The Great VCU Bike Race Book is a unique Connected Learning experience under development at Virginia Commonwealth University that will take place during the early part of the Fall 2015 semester. Per the RFP crafted for proposals from faculty members:

There are at least three primary purposes for the the Great VCU Bike Race Book. 1) To provide a purposeful, enjoyable learning experience during the Bike Race week, especially for residential students who would otherwise not have any academic work to occupy them. 2) To give VCU students an opportunity to participate in an innovative online course that aligns with the VCU Quality Enhancement Plan’s goals of integrative learning by means of digital fluency. 3) To provide a unique faculty development experience that will advance VCU faculty’s involvement in distinctive online education aiming at deeper learning and high engagement that fosters student success.


Over the last few weeks, faculty members from across the university proposed “tracks” which will focus on areas of creativity and/or inquiry that will be organized around disciplinary or cross-disciplinary themes. Ultimately, 25 faculty members from multiple disciplines proposed tracks involving topics ranging from physics (“The Physics of Bicycling”) to kinesiology (“Bike Athlete Performance”) to sociology (“Cycling Culture & Identity”). Each track is a 1-credit section of an “online” class that students can register for at a massively reduced rate ($50!). Given the nature of the “online” course, each track could accommodate many students, perhaps as many as 100 or more per track depending on the activities and design.

Also, per the RFP:

During the week of the race, students will produce various kinds of work related to the bike race, e.g., blogs, tweets, photographs, audio, video (YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Imgur, etc.). Also during the race, these learning products, categorized by tracks and identified by tags, will be aggregated in more-or-less real time onto a learning engagement “dashboard” page created and maintained by VCU’s Academic Learning Transformation  Lab (ALT Lab). In short, during the bike race week, VCU students will be creators, researchers, and “citizen journalists,” making the academic vitality, creativity, and diversity of our students visible to the world in an exciting, innovative way.

In the weeks following the race, faculty and their student teams will work with our ALT Lab team to curate the best works into a “Great VCU Bike Race Book” that will live on the open Web. “Book”, then,  is a metaphor suggesting a collection that is organized and curated. The aggregated materials during the bike race week will be an initial instance of the “book.” Materials selected for the online showcase of the “best of the race” will make up the next instance of the “book.”

This is going to be a pretty amazing learning event, and it is going to take a village of creative and talented professionals to “Make it Real.” My ALT Lab colleagues, including and especially Tom Woodward, Molly Ransone, and David Croteau will be working with me and the faculty members to bring this whole thing together. Also, we’re bringing back the amazing Alan Levine (aka CogDog) to work his WordPress and syndication magic. And, we’ve got Amy Adkins, postdoc fellow and geneticist (a geneticist, y’all!) to be our coordinator, faculty wrangler, shepherd, etc.

Some design notes and initial thoughts on #vcubrb:

  • The “instructional design” borrows from the highly successful #Thoughtvectors experience. Every student will have his/her own space on the Web where he/she learns out loud. Student work will be aggregated into the 25 track or section sites. In turn, each of the 25 track/section sites will be syndicated/aggregated into the “mother blog;” the Great VCU Bike Race Book site. There’s probably a bike-related joke here about a spoke-and-hub design, but I’m no comedian.
  • I love what the Great VCU Bike Race Book site IS at this point. It’s mostly just an invitational placeholder until we start doing the work of aggregation/syndication, but it’s also informational. Additionally, it embodies the spirit of VCU ALT Lab and the joy of learning imagined for the whole experience. From a design perspective, the spirit of ALT Lab comes through in a general design by Tom Woodward brought to life with the animation of one of our newest staff members, artist/animator Emma Gauthier. Then, there are the Bike Fortunes, a Tom Woodward production. Go ahead, try it. See what bike fortune you get!
  • Starting tomorrow, we’ll be working with all of the faculty members to level-set and to have them begin to flesh out their learning experiences and to begin to develop their track/section site. Tomorrow is April 21; by May 4, each faculty member will have a site that represents their section/track to potential students and the world. Those sites, too, will be placeholders as faculty members will, behind the cover of their placeholder sites, further develop the full section/track site to be unveiled before the Fall 2015 semester begins. This will be quite a faculty development challenge for us, but, WE GOT THIS!

Things are still emergent at this point, so stay tuned as we roll (#SeeWhatIDidThere?) this out. Follow developments on Twitter at #vcubrb (more Tom Woodward brilliance in coming up with this double (at least) entendre hashtag).

Oh, and how could I forget… Molly Ransone and her team of creatives produced a trailer for VCU’s academic efforts around the race. Enjoy!

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