What’s In It For Me?

Cross-post from the Digital Fellow’s blog:

Just over a year ago, I set out to create a wiki for philosophers – an online, collaborative resource that would help graduate teaching fellows and adjuncts create lesson plans around topics they have never taught before.  I named the wiki Enlightened Educators, and hoped it would be a space for educators with varying levels of experience to come together and offer each other suggestions for overcoming many of the obstacles that we all face when trying to determine the most effective ways to teach our students.  The process of getting my wiki up and running was pretty challenging; I encountered numerous logistical and technical problems that were, at times, extremely discouraging and made me want to abandon the entire project.  Yet, despite the developmental hurdles, the problem I encountered that left me the most dispirited involved the way that some of my fellow colleagues wanted to use the wiki: as a way to get credit for creating certain lesson plans.

My goal for Enlightened Educators is for it to be a collaborative database that contains creative approaches for teaching specific topics to students.  When I invited other students in my department to contribute to the wiki, I had gone to great lengths to explain why the collaborative nature of the wiki was essential to its success.  The structure of a wiki precludes giving formal credit for contributions; instead, it encourages users to engage with one another over the best way to represent a certain topic or idea irrespective of a particular viewpoint.  I want Enlightened Educators to offer some of the best strategies for teaching specific lessons to students, and I believe that a collaborative approach to lesson planning will yield these strategies.  Unfortunately, this kind of approach is in tension with how graduate students are taught to compose and present research (and, consequently, the way we teach): a focus on credit, praise, recognition, etc., leaves many of us weary of collaboration.

A few of my fellow colleagues seemed very interested in contributing to the wiki, mentioning that they had crafted some excellent exercises for specific topics.  Yet, they also inquired about what kind of credit they would receive if others used their exercises.  Granted, we are all at the beginnings of our careers and receiving credit for our projects and endeavors is an important part of establishing ourselves as scholars.  Even still, I was really taken back by how pervasive this need for recognition can be, and perplexed about how we can try and move beyond it.

Academia is becoming increasingly more collaborative – especially with the recent surge in digital humanities partnerships – and this is a good thing.  Collaboration doesn’t preclude the assignment of credit for work done.  Rather, it has the potential to increase the profile of the projects that we work on and the potential to improve how we begin and sustain our own scholarly pursuits.  We stand to gain much more when we collaborate with others – not only because of the potential significance that collaborative projects may achieve, but also because of how our own interests and approaches are shaped and reshaped by our interactions with others, and this substantially affects our growth as scholars.

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