The Problem with "Collaboration"
Sometimes we take for granted the meaning of a word we use often and don't realize it may have a different meaning for others. Last week I presented the COIL Center to a plenary session of the Virtual University Conference at Warsaw University. After I spoke and was prepared to answer questions about what I had just presented, an audience member asked why we included the word "Collaboration" in our Center's name? Before I could answer, he stated how negatively this word reads in Eastern Europe given the hated role that "Collaborators" have played in the history of that region. I'm not convinced that we need to formally change our name because of this interpretation, but this interaction does make clear how history and culture shape meaning. And as most people simply know us as: "The COIL Center," anyone who is uncomfortable with "Collaboration" should feel free to read the "C" as indicating "Cooperative," in keeping with the intended meaning of our name.
Another unexpected aspect of this three-day conference was the focus on student "upbringing" or student socialization, and concerns about potential problems with distance learning in this regard. The leader of the session, Ryszard Tadeusiewicz, focused on this subject and expressed particular concern about the loss of flesh and blood faculty members as living role models for students in the online environment while others in attendance countered that this format gave students more opportunity to construct their own meaning and not be so beholden to an authority figure. In general, I learned that this socializing aspect of education seemed more accepted as being a faculty responsibility by this gathering than I have found at similar conferences at SUNY, like the recent CIT2007.
Ryszard Tadeusiewicz speaking
An idea that seems to be gaining great currency in Europe are networked (virtual) universities as a way of delivering courses and even entire programs. The first conference plenary session was delivered by Rolf Granow of the Baltic Sea Virtual Campus which links universities in eight countries and has begun creating entire degree programs that share courses between 13 universities located in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia: http://www.oncampus.de/index.php?id=60&L=1
I also learned about the new Polish Virtual University which links universities in six Polish cities with a similar synergistic intent: http://www.puw.pl/english/. There is even a virtual university within the large and sprawling Warsaw University, itself, intended to be a better way to physically and pedagogically connect diverse programs. We at SUNY should learn something from these European models and thereby create better networks through which our campuses can share resources and work more closely together.
Visitors Networking Near the Conference