Fig. 1. what collaboration online looks like? Activity theory meets neuroscience. This could be many heads knocking together, or the internal workings inside one.
I’m getting a sense of deja vu as the rhythm of H818 reveals itself. I’m doing the Open University module H818:The Networked Practitioner. It runs until Jan 2014.
Openness comes with caveats. It is not everyone’s cup of tea.
As people we adjust our behaviour in different environments. I am not saying that we necessarily behave in the same way in an Open Studio online (a virtual studio no less) than we do or would in an open studio, as in a collective in a workshop or ‘atlier’ that is ‘exposed’ to fellow artists in the physical world, but wherever we are ‘open’, in the physical or virtual worlds, we are nonetheless prone to human interaction with all the usual undercurrents.
For all those busy exposing themselves, the easiest default position, someone – ‘one’ being the key word, has the door closed and is getting on with the job without the distraction of others. Is achievement and success of necessity a lonely, not a ‘connected’ activity? You can do the networking once you have a product to sell or a well formed opinion to share … otherwise this is nothing more than ‘chatting’ in the First World War sense of the word – idol banter to pass the time between periods of conflict.
What I believe will not work is to put a gaggle of creators in the same room and expect them to collaborate. The studios of the ‘open’ type that I am aware of are either the classic Rennaisance workshop with a master artist and apprentices at various stages of their own development, or, with a similar dynamic in operation, the ‘occupants’ of a studio, or business unit cum workshop, are exposed LESS to each other and more to external commentators and contributors. This requires some formality to it .i.e. not simply ‘the person off the street’ but an educator/moderator in their own right.
It also helps if people have parricular skills sets that when combined work together – as in a team producing a film.
Is H818:The Networked Practitioner too dependent on chance? The foibles of a small cohort of postgraduate students with little in common and complete strangers … and the complex, messy, moments ‘we’ are each in. Actions differ between those who have had the course paid for by their institution, those who are doing it out of their own pocket for career advancement which requires the degree and anyone in it ‘for the love of it’ – with full-time employment, part-time employment or retirement, and any number of other commitments that colour participation and attitudes.
Over three years of this and, by chance only, surely … six of us strangers in a subgroup jelled. More often the silence and inactivity of the majority makes ‘group work’ a myth – partnerships of two or three were more likely. The only exception I have come across in the ‘real world’ have been actors working together on an improvisation – they have been trained however to disassociate their natural behaviours. The reasons why that ‘six’ worked has been a topic I have returned to often – team dynamic, spread around the globe on different time zone, all experienced practitioners and typically on our second or third OU module … digitally literate, socially networked …
Some of us study with the OU as we cringe at the ‘exposure’ of a course that requires us to meet in the flesh – distance learning suits, to some degree, the lone worker who prefers isolation.
By way of revealing contrast I am a tutor at the School of Communication Arts – a modest though pivitol role given their format and philosophy – exposure to many hundreds of kindred spirits who have been there … a sounding board and catalyst. NOT a contributor, but more an enabler.
We’ll see. My thinking is that to be effective, collaboration or exposure needs to have structure, discipline and formality. Of course this is or should be exactly what the ‘Open Studio’ platform provides. But like a restaurant, however lovely the decor, if the place is empty no one will be eating the food.
At the Brighton Arts Festival the other evening I wonder how the 80 odd exhibtors would cope if the Cornexchange was also their workshop? In certain, vulnerable environments, the only comment should be praise. Feedback is invited from those who are trusted.
A school setting is different again, as is college … people share the same space because they have to.
Open Studio apears to try to coral the feedback that comes anyway from a connected, popular and massive sites such as WordPress, Linkedin Groups, Facebook and even Amazon. Though the exposure, if you permit it, is tempered and negotiated – Facebook is gentle amongst family and friends, Linkedin is meterd and professional in a corporate way, WordPress is homespun while Amazon, probably due to the smell of money, can be catty – and in any case, the artefact is a done deal it’s not as if, to take a current example, Max Hastings is going to rewrite his book on the First World War because some in the academic community say that it is weak historicaly and strong only on journalistic anecdote. Some of the reviews read like they were posted by a PR department, not a person. Another story, but can we smell a rat as easily in the virtual as in the physical world?