Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Complementary Collaboration

It´s been an utterly packed 58 hours, with lots to share, but it occurs to me that leaping right into our time in Bolivia is akin to asking our blog readers to start a book on Chapter 10 without knowing what happened in the earlier chapters.

So before getting to the black market mapmonger hawking illegal street-by-street maps of El Alto to an odd trio of peruano and estadounidense social scientists, let´s back up a bit.

Our departure for Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador prompted us to create this blog in June 2008, but really this 64-day Andean adventure is the centerpiece of a multi-year project that began more or less in Nicole´s first month of college (Sept 2006) and will conclude a bit before she graduates in May 2010.

Yes, I do tend to plan ahead.

So what exactly are we doing? I guess it´s principally an original hybrid of fieldwork-based scholarship, bi-lingual civic engagement in the Americas, and radically egalitarian collaboration.

I´m sure that clarifies things perfectly.

The following excerpt from one of our three grant proposals (we found out three days before our departure that we got all three grants) will hopefully do a better job explaining what this is about. Nicole claimed green, and I got purple, so I guess black is now the official font of jointly-written text. Not sure what color Cesar will choose when he posts...

A New Faculty-Student Model: Complementary Collaboration

This project attempts to stretch the boundaries of faculty-undergraduate collaboration. In order to include the student collaborator at all stages of a multi-year project, the partnership emerges earlier in the undergraduate’s college experience than is typical—as early as her first semester and no later than the sophomore year. Thus, full-fledged faculty-student collaboration occurs at every stage of the research process: project conception, literature review, research design, grant-writing, intensive fieldwork, conference presentations, journal submission and revision, and publication of a co-authored article.

Given the scope of our planned activities and outcomes, a casual observer may find this project ambitious because it involves an undergraduate in an unusually broad array of exciting experiences. But at the core of the project is a boldly innovative approach to faculty-student collaboration that we hope will contribute to the ongoing transformation of faculty-student relationships and learning at Associated Colleges of the Midwest colleges and beyond.

Among scholars of pedagogy and educational philosophy, the “empty vessel” or “banking” approach to education—wherein the teacher has all the knowledge and the student is the eager receptacle—has been largely discredited, but in the realm of faculty-student research this approach remains commonplace. It is generally assumed that the faculty member has the full skill set needed for the task at hand, and the student, though she will certainly make an important contribution, is considered an apprentice who is primarily participating in order to learn, rather than to contribute.

With this project, we are attempting to challenge this model and pilot a new “Complementary Collaboration” approach that is marked by three distinctive elements: 1) the emergence of an egalitarian relationship; 2) complementary skills; and 3) collaborative engaged scholarship.

The Emergence of an Egalitarian Relationship

Given the project’s collaborative aims, an egalitarian faculty-student relationship is clearly essential, but equally important is the manner in which this relationship emerges. Egalitarianism cannot be handed down from a faculty member to a student. Paul Dosh has tried this with other students, but ultimately it proved to be something less than egalitarianism because “inviting someone up” (from student to junior colleague) is not the same thing as building together from the ground up.

The academic relationship between Nicole Kligerman and Professor Paul Dosh began in a traditional fashion, but has burgeoned over two years based on shared common interests, both academic and personal. As a member of Paul’s first-year seminar, “Latin America Through Women’s Eyes,” Nicole explored her interests in social movements, feminism, civic engagement, and Latin America with Paul’s guidance. Based on shared academic interests, as well as a personal conviviality, Nicole worked with Paul the following semester to help him prepare his book for publication and to pursue an independent study. Utilizing their complementary skills and abilities, they learned from each other to create an egalitarian academic environment based not on sameness, but on diverse talents and perspectives. Thus the current project on Bolivia and Ecuador was born from the intersection of academic interests, a long-standing egalitarian working relationship, and complementary skill sets and backgrounds, all of which help ensure the true collaborative process of their research.

Complementary Skills

In 2007, Paul Dosh directed the Chuck Green Civic Engagement Fellowship, which is predicated on the assumption that non-specialized liberal arts college students are better positioned to accomplish many civic engagement projects that older and more experienced—but highly specialized—faculty. Faculty are experts in their field, but such specialization can be a liability when they need to access information, networks, and resources that are outside of their specialty field. Undergraduates, though often not yet experts at anything, are potentially capable of everything. Under Paul’s supervision, the 2007 cohort of Chuck Green Fellows accomplished amazing summer civic engagement projects, in part, because the fellowship helps the students see how ideally-suited for the task they are—even better suited than their faculty mentors!

Expanding upon this understanding of research and engagement, our project draws upon the complementary skills of both Paul Dosh and Nicole Kligerman. Some skills are gained from years of research experience; Paul is an expert at field interviews and he will need to teach Nicole how to interview social movement leaders. But Paul is now a specialized political scientist whose professional activities are increasingly focused, suggesting that Nicole’s fresh record of civic engagement and service will help broaden the project’s impact beyond a narrow audience of academic experts, to include non-academic communities in the Americas.

Collaborative Engaged Scholarship

ACM colleges are increasingly focusing on the interplay of scholarship and civic engagement, and it is important that our collaborative model contribute to this positive trend. This project seeks to reach multiple audiences (in two languages), including the communities and popular movements that we plan to study. Thus, just as the skills of faculty and student complement each other, the demands and benefits of scholarly research and civic engagement complement each other as well.

At present, most civic engagement projects are either: 1) faculty-initiated, with students participating; or 2) student-initiated and student-completed, either as a class assignment or as part of a student-run organization. Much less common are civic engagement projects that are co-initiated by both faculty and students, outside the framework of an academic class. It is important to us to contribute to this fledgling, but vital new category of civic engagement projects.

The term “complementary collaboration” ought to be redundant, but given the standard contours of most faculty-student collaboration, genuine complementarity often proves elusive. Grounded in an egalitarian research partnership, complementary skills, and collaborative engaged scholarship, we anticipate that we will both generate a better understanding of popular movements in Bolivia and Ecuador and also show how this superior understanding would likely not have been discovered by a faculty expert working alone.

So I guess that´s a description of how we are pursuing this project. The details of what we are pursuing and what we expect to come out of it will have to wait, as my fingers are getting numb from working on a keyboard that is, basically, outdoors in the quite chill mountain air. But so far, I think we are off to a great start!



shailja said...


What an incredible vision and project. Have you trademarked "Complementary Collaboration" yet? Get onto it fast, before Monsanto does :-)

Can't wait to see / hear / read what you accomplish in the weeks to come. Even reading about the concept, design, planning, take my breath away. You've really got to stop thinking small, Pablo...........

Stay warm, and hydrated. Sending every kind of power and joy for the work ahead.

Love, Shailja

srj said...

What a fantastic adventure!! I'll be reading along with delight.

--Stephanie RJ ('06)

Don/Dad said...

Yes, but is it going to be on the final?


Zachary Drake said...

Glad to hear you're blogging. I want to hear about the illegal maps. Why are they illegal? Do they think you're going to plan an invasion or something?

Equal Footing said...

In answer to Zac´s question, the maps are illegal copies that don´t give credit or royalties to the map author. Bolivia has a ways to go before it matches China´s professional mastery of intellectual property rights violation, but as Dave Holman commented, he has never seen a legitimate DVD for sale, even in an upscale store. Even the first-run movie theaters show pirated copies of films, rather than pay for them. Not that you can tell the difference. The maps are full-color beautiful posters.


Sarah said...

Putting on my academic hat, I LOVE reading about this new collaborative model. It makes me feel very excited about finally getting a faculty position (wish me luck in this fall's job market) so that I can do this kind of thing with students. (Maybe not the far-flung-traveling-community-organizing thing, but the student-involved-as-an-equal thing!). I hope you don't mind if I cite your proposal/ideas in my job interviews...