Blog Post

Collaboration by Difference and Affinity

HASTAC has been pushing a management and intellectual model of "collaboration by difference," sincedigital learning requires the coming together of many people with verydifferent kinds of expertise. Sometimes, though, collaboration isabout sharing the same goals, standards, ideals, and sense ofresponsibility. As we wind down towards the end of the first year of the HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition, we are struck again by how easy it is to collaborate with some folks and how hard with others. The key, I think, is that, no matter what the expertise one brings to the table, one must share some basics: shared goals, shared expectation of excellence, shared sense of responsibility for failure and joy for success, respect.


The team at the Franklin Center at Duke and UCHRI in California has been working together now for something close to five years. That's pretty amazing. We've put on events and conferences together and, for the DML Competition, have been working together on a daily basis, with emails (o yeah) many times a day. Interestingly, relatively little of what we do overlaps in terms of task. Almost all the financials as well as the automated application systems plus communication with all of the judges happens out of UCHRI. The website design, planning events, and working hands' on with applicants and (eventually) winners happens mostly on the Duke side. Together we write copy. We write grants.  We contribute to and proofread one another's work. We contribute ideas in regular conference calls as well as in emails (o yeah) that fly back and forth between the costs at a dizzying speed.


And we like one another. If one person needs a little distance, someone else picks up the load. If someone needs to go more slowly and promises to deliver on time, we know that will happen. If there is something tricky, we work on it collectively. And when the unexpected happens--such as three times the anticipated number of applications to a contest--everyone drops everything to pitch in.


We've had some business students study us and the "collaboration by difference" was noted as our hallmark, both as a virtual organization and as an administrative structure between our two anchoring institutions. I think that is true. But I also think that the affinities, styles, expectations, and the respect factor come even before the divided expertise. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to be part of a great collaboration knows what it feels like. Sadly, anyone who has been part of a collaboration that is not working also knows how rotten it is. The best and the worst of all possible worlds.


I feel very, very lucky that, with HASTAC, I've experienced collaboration that's as good as it gets.


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