The rhetorical situation of the collaborative class project, discussed in Sergey's Experience, is heavily dependent on the malleable yet invasive team identity that, though welcoming of individual initiative, dictates collaboration, negotiation, and agreement.
Henry Jenkins et al. (2006) used the term participatory culture to define the mechanism by which social interaction succeeds among young people communicating in mediated environments, such as social media, Web 2.0 tools, and metagaming. Defining participatory culture as a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices (p. 3), Jenkins et al. explained that this mechanism “shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement” (p. 7). Emphasizing the constructive nature of this culture, they listed a dozen or so “new skills” that define communicative practices and contribute to the formation of a shared team identity:
- play: the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
- performance: the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
- distributed cognition: the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
- collective intelligence: the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
- negotiation: the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms. (p. 4)
Although Jenkins et al. focused exclusively on youth and their functioning in the media-saturated society of the information age, I believe the concept of participatory culture and the skills that it carries can be useful in describing and promoting the kind of virtual team teaching that becomes possible through assignments like this one. Emphases on community involvement, active exploration of ideas, as well as created team identities could turn the concept of participatory culture into a powerful pedagogical technique. Participatory culture coupled with virtual teaming take into account the ever-increasing multiplicity and complexity of communication and the types of teaching and learning that can sustain such multiplicity and complexity.
For this project, notions of multiplicity and complexity led us as faculty to tweak, challenge, or extend traditional borders in our fields, our schools, and our pedagogical practices. The collaborative assignment we designed and completed/performed with the students allowed for ample experimentation with remote collaborators and people of different courses, majors, and backgrounds. It also called for the construction and performance of a team culture that drove the project to a successful completion. Working within this culture created a space for us to use the communal potential of team-teaching to cross disciplinary, professional, and individual knowledge-boundaries.
One paramount benefit of this crossing and a true pillar of our team identity is a new perspective on what constitutes a teaching identity in the information age. My experiences with virtual teaming, respect for participatory culture, and reliance on the rhetorical situation of the virtual team class project in planning, administering, and performing this assignment make me believe that this new understanding of teaching (and learning) could lead to a more holistic education that challenges the “demarcation” of profession, knowledge, and work (Lamont & Molnar, 2002) that has compartmentalized and normalized educational and professional discourses. Revisiting the critical assessment of the project by our students, who reported difficulty and frustration but were also unanimous in appreciating the virtual team approach, our teaching team continues assessing our own successes and challenges on the project. As faculty, we also explore and critically assess the numerous affordances of the information age through our academic, professional and personal lives, and in doing so see a real need to continue and multiply our efforts with virtual teaming projects.