The Challenges of Collaboration
It’s been some time since we’ve had the space to write a blog post together. Work, publication deadlines, sabbaticals, and new jobs are some of our good excuses. In light of this, we thought we would share how we’re able to continue our collaborative research despite these obstacles, including now working at different institutions.
Although collaboration has long been a buzzword in academia, often there is little institutional support (in terms of time, know-how or finances) to transform good collaborative intentions into actual classroom practices. But by working together, we were forced to critically reflect on each other’s power in the classroom, as well as our own intellectual backgrounds, recognizing that there are many differences that must be worked out for a collaborative approach to work. More significantly, our collaboration caused us to be both more critical of our individual teaching practices but also more empathetic.
Collaboration, in terms of research, faces fewer obvious institutional hurdles but has its own set of challenges. When we first started learning more about each other’s discipline for our combined media and information literacy teaching and research collaboration, we soon found that we were learning alongside one another, which better served our partnership. It might sound a little strange to even note the fact that we were learning alongside one another - after all, we work in academia. But we suspect, like many who read this, that although disturbing, relatively little of our time is dedicated to actually learning new things, let alone learning with a colleague in a different discipline.
We think collaboration and openness go hand-in-hand. We wouldn’t be as open with our work if not for our own collaboration and sharing of ideas, even when we don’t always agree. Often out of disagreement comes insight into not only how narrow your own ideas or perspective might be, but the opportunity to reconceptualize an idea or issue through another disciplinary lens is invaluable in the evolution of thinking. Baldwin and Chang (2007) noted, “One of the principal benefits of collaborating with others is to achieve goals that cannot be achieved alone. In fact, one definition of collaboration characterizes the process as “an effective interpersonal process that facilitates the achievement of goals that cannot be reached when individual professionals act on their own” (Bronstein 2003).
For us, nothing beats working through ideas in person. But now that we are in different locations and opportunities for working this way are infrequent, we spend a lot of time on Google Drive organizing our work and planning out next projects. Much of our collaborative work takes place on evenings and weekends (especially writing), with weekly phone calls scheduled in advance to help keep us on track. These calls also serve to keep us engaged with the disciplines we work in, exchange resources and provide perspective on our day-to-day work. It’s hard. It’s definitely not ideal. We feel it’s worth it though. We continue to explore new ideas, write and present at conferences, re-connecting with colleagues we first met when we initially started our work (looking at you International Critical Media Literacy Conference).
There is always risk and uncertainty (egos must be checked and compromise is not always easy) in an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach, but new learning and new resources lead to growth and development of ideas and deeper understandings. As McDaniel and Colarulli (1997) observed, “Real collaboration cannot help but create conflict; and it requires compromise, sharing of power and responsibility…”
Shout out to Ian O’Byrne whose reference to the work on ‘Openness as social practice’ sparked the initial kernel for this topic, which then morphed into our first blog post of 2019. We hope to write more this year. Thanks for reading.
Natasha & Spencer