HASTAC 2015: #CollabDesign

Thanks to everyone who helped make HASTAC15 such a blast, and our #CollabDesign panel such a fun and well-attended session! Below are my slides and framing comments for our session — along with my earlier post on Some Notes on Syllabi as Boundary Objects and Prototypes.  As we undertake revisions for our essays for our Hybrid Pedagogies collection, these can serve as some guides.

On Co-Creating Syllabi: Lightening Talk Panel — #CollabDesign

Anita Chan, Institute of Communications Research, UIUC — Comments Prepared for the HASTAC 2015 Conference — Michigan State University, Lansing, MI – May 30, 2015


This panel’s talks are all rooted in a new grad seminar I had taught in the Fall 2014 exploring Collaboration Systems. It was an inter-disciplinary class, with students coming in from Communications, Anthropology, Library Studies, and Art History backgrounds, among others.


And likewise, the syllabus for the class included readings from fields as distinct as feminist ad post-colonial studies to science and technology studies and digital humanities – all to explore the politics of collaboration.

Everyone in other words, from Donna Haraway and Tara McPherson to Paolo Freire, Lucy Suchman, and James Scott were included in the syllabus. Which not something necessarily unexpected for me as an instructor, given my background as an anthropologist in both Latin American and science and technology studies.

The only thing somewhat different for this class from a traditional seminar – was that the final deliverable — rather than a standard chapter-length paper – asked for us to co-design a syllbus for a plausible 8-16 week course, with a chosen partner from “outside” our home discipline.


And even though we may not often not be prompted to think of syllabi as particularly complex technologies… because they are such a mundane part of our routine pedagogical practice — we know that, much like the knowledge trees referenced as visual technologies and maps in yesterday morning’s keynote from Scott Weingart…


…. our syllabi DO TOO operate as maps and socio-technical guides to conversations in our fields (as boundary objects in the work of Bowker, Starr, and Greseimer that interface distinct voices). And even while they represent a great deal of complexity in knowledge, they can simultaneously exclude others, or narrow the range of conversations around an object in order to render that object comprehensible within a discipline. So the challenge here was to Collaborate: To define just one object of shared pedagogical interest, and draw in an “OTHER” to co-design a syllabus that didn’t represent just one discipline… but multiple …


As Tara Mcpheron reminded us in her widely cited 2012 essay – we know this is much harder than it sounds. To move beyond the “patterned isolationism” and “modular politics” that she writes have become too common within the academy today, requires dedicated, patient collaborative work. As well as potentially the development of new relational practices.

Our next 9 lightening talks represent reflections on experimental attempts to “develop such [new] common languages” between distinct fields. These all look very different. And we’ll see that these can yield experiences that are alternately frustrating and fruitful. But in their honesty and openness, as well as their novelty, we hope they are ones too that can be illuminating — and that might open some new “common spaces” (if not yet a “common language”) for our conversations on collaboration.  — @wrongrrl — 5/30/15





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