Reflections on #doingdah14: part 2, conversations

#doingdah14 has come to an end after 10 days of learning, discussing, and bashing ideas together. I wanted to follow up on my first post with another oriented toward the discussions that came out in the last 3 days about shared authority, teaching, and scholarly communication. I’m going to focus more on the conversations about teaching, relationships with students (undergraduate and graduate), and collaborative work as those resonated significantly with my own ongoing deliberations on these topics. Here are the two points stuck out to me:

As a discipline, art history seems to have a deep sense of commitment to helping students through networking and project work: This generalization is my perception after lengthy conversations with Steph on her own experiences, and hearing the flow of conversation in the room. Internships (often unpaid, unfortunately) and collaboration with professors on research projects came up often during the discussion on pedagogy as ways that professors mentor students interested in art history. In my own experience, I’ve had opportunities to work with professors as research assistants but frankly it’s been mostly as a way to earn some extra money (a mutual agreement between me and the professors I’ve worked with). While I’m grateful for those chances, it’s a different kind of fulfillment–practical, rather than intellectual. Ideally, the two would be combined, which brings me to the next point…

Collaborations between professors and students are tricky areas to negotiate: Much concern was expressed over the 10 days over issues of labor, compensation, and credit–particularly with regards to student labor. One approach for a collaborative research project mentioned had the academic  retain full control over the intellectual development of the project with students coming in at a later stage to pull together materials, assemble bibliographies, data entry, track down permissions, and help with the project’s presentation. That’s valuable project work. And it can lead to experiences that aren’t part of the formal curriculum, as Matthew Lincoln outlines with regards to hunting down image permissions.

But what I’d like to suggest is that there should be open and clear conversations between professors and students about the parameters of work and intellectual contribution.  I would like to know if the kind of work envisioned for me is supposed to be task-oriented (where I’m basically just working through a checklist of stuff) or if I’m being brought on as a contributor/collaborator to the intellectual mission and development of the project. I see a huge gap in terms of personal investment in the latter situation that doesn’t have to exist in the former. It’s not an easy conversation to have, either. No one wants to feel like they stifled a student. From the other direction, it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like the level of work exceeds the payoff (at all levels). I believe that many professors who are willing to think about incorporating students into their projects want their students to get something meaningful out of the experience, including transferable skills and credit. What’s challenging, and perhaps uncomfortable, is making sure that the intentions (on both sides) are clearly communicated and realized, particularly when students are often in a vulnerable position and pressured to amass a resume of work with the hopes of a later payoff.

It’s heartening for me to hear the deep concern, empathy, and thoughtfulness expressed by the group regarding how to provide positive learning and work experiences for students. This is a strong group of educators, and I am eager to see the kinds of projects (now including the digital!) that come out of collaborations between the #doingdah14 cohort and their student collaborators.


Thanks to Amanda Morton for the point about the vulnerability of students, consent, and collaborative work with professors. 

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