It is my pleasure to introduce Collaboration as the theme of the IPRH blog for the academic year 2014/15.

Starling flocks. Gretna, Scotland.

Collaboration is central to our practice in the academic community. Whether in the humanities and social sciences or natural sciences and engineering, it is indispensable to the work of sharing and distributing knowledge, and essential to fostering scholarly networks. It is a fundamental principle on which established research and collegial relations are sustained; and a core value upon which new scholarly cooperations and interdisciplinary dialogues are prompted.

images © Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Scholarly collaboration has entailed partnerships big and small: of individuals cooperating or working through multi-disciplinary teams. But digital age networks and infrastructures have generated new interest around the potentials of radically scaling up collaborations, and exploring knowledge making and distribution extended well beyond the traditional boundaries of institutions. Across the knowledge economy, digital tools for crowdsourcing, peer production, smart mobs, open source production, and co-creation with horizontal masses of participants have found broad applications — pushing new conventions and debates around what counts as knowledge work, research, authorship, intellectual property, and participation in the digital age.

Cases from the growth of Wikipedia and Linux to the popularity of Google’s Android operating system (now the world’s most widely used OS), Facebook’s API infrastructure (that allows developers to gain access to vast amounts of its own user data for building Facebook compatible applications), and Innocentive’s science platform (that enables users like the NIH and Proctor and Gamble to seek crowdsourced responses to research and development problems) have fanned enthusiasm for how institutions can be optimized for the 21st century by applying new networked technologies (what Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams problematically called “weapons of mass collaboration” in the 2006 best-seller, Wikinomics).

Wikipedia English Activity Map 2012.

Wikipedia English-language activity map, 2012


But the fervor over digital technologies applied for mass collaboration can gloss over the challenges and complexities in rapidly expanding collaborations without diluting the academic mission. Despite the enthused investments into massive open online course (MOOC) platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and edX, recent decisions to change content access models by commercial MOOCs underscore how such ventures still continue to face challenges in student engagement and course completion rates. Much as faculty protests over the application of MOOCS and calls for greater campus oversight highlight persistent concerns over their compromising of academic integrity. Meanwhile, revelations of manipulation of Facebook user data in the name of research underscore growing debates over how data privacy, “user consent” and research conventions get filtered through digital age industry-academy partnerships.

The technology fervor can also elide the need to attend more closely to the multiple histories, disciplinary conventions, cultural and relational contexts, and scholarly traditions in open debate and dissent, from which collaborations – including those featuring new technologies – necessarily draw. The layered histories and cultures surrounding sustained educational technology initiatives like the PLATO educational computing project (1960-2006) or Project Gutenberg’s digital archive (1971-present), both launched from our own campus, are local reminders that using new media to extend education potentials beyond campus boundaries is far from a new ambition.

The PLATO system was developed at the University of Illinois in 1960. Over 15,000 hours of instruction were developed for it, representing one of the largest investments in educational technology content development until the advent of MOOCs.

Over 15,000 hours of instruction were developed for PLATO, representing one of the largest investments in educational technology content until the advent of MOOCs.

PLATO in Schools, 1969

PLATO in public schools, 1969.

PLATO communities developed to code and play games - from Empire to multiplayer games based on Star Trek - for the platform.

Game design, online chat, and bulletin board notes were among PLATO’s early developments.

This year’s theme of Collaboration will be understood inclusively to comprise present activities within scholarly practice, novel methods that press towards futures of knowledge exchange, as well as histories of collaboration innovations within scholarly contexts. Collaboration is especially timely this year as the IPRH launches its new Humanities Without Walls initiative linking humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and beyond.

With your help, we’ll explore collaboration in its multiple guises and shifting iterations: in contemporary crowdsourcing and peer production platforms, in current and past interdisciplinary architectures, and in relation to themes including collaborative ecologies, collaboration and authorship, gift practices and reputation economies, open access publications, inter-institutional partnerships, data aggregation practices and visualizations, “prosumers” and privacy rights; citation and remix practices, and global copyright and copyleft debates.

We invite your ideas, media contributions, and provocations – so do share!


About anitacks

assistant professor of media and cinema studies at the university of illinois at ubana-champaign. + digital ethnography, inter-disciplinary approaches to media and technology studies, and hybrid pedagogies. engaged in research on/with innovation policy and practices, global digital cultures and translocal interventions, latin american science and technology studies.
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3 Responses to Collaboration

  1. Ann Abbott says:

    A very good theme, and I look forward to reading more posts about collaboration.

  2. chipbruce says:

    Agreed, a very good theme. I like the way you brought in the “challenges and complexities,” along with the positive potentials.

    It was also good to remind UI readers about the many local initiatives to support educational collaboration. I’d add the Biological Computer Laboratory and Kevin Hamilton’s exhibit about it to your list. The earlier IllIAC series of computers was computer science research, but also had important pedagogical aspects. In fact, PLATO, which you mention, ran on an early ILLIAC. IDEALS is another good example, since an accessible library repository can be a powerful tool for both general and educational collaboration.

  3. Pingback: Teaching Collaboration

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