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Embracing Knowledge Production in Teamwork

Two weeks ago, I shared a touched-up piece of a draft I wrote in 2007. It was a reflective essay for a subject called Trans-Disciplinary Thinking and Learning (TTL) and my first assignment studying at The University of Melbourne. TTL was a core subject for all students taking Master of Environment. I remember I almost cried stepping out of my first lecture, frustrated with the Australian accent of one of the lecturers.

After I handed over my first draft and having further consultation, I finally managed to finish my first assignment and submitted on time. Here is the final product!

Introduction

I worked for a small local NGO working on environmental issues. The NGO has three divisions: research, community development and environmental education. The environmental education division consists of two sub-divisions; they are rural and urban environmental divisions. I was in the urban environmental divisions and worked with two co-workers. Therefore, three people worked within this division: my supervisor, me and an apprentice. Most of the time, we worked with partner institutions; they are schools and museums — our projects mainly aimed at building students’ and the whole community’s awareness of the environment. Our work is mostly organizing projects. Initially, we would come with disorganized plans. Secondly, we transformed the plan into a systematic and written argumentation to propose to national or international funding institutions. We usually worked on a proposal through different kinds of stages. The stage is different between one to another proposal. I believe the whole process is a valuable experience concerning this reflexivity project where I will try to distinguish my knowledge. Turnbull (2000) states, “Knowledge is in effect a ‘motley’” (p. 4) and “Knowledge…is both situated and situating. It has a place and creates a space” (p. 19). As he also mentioned, ”If we wish to rethink the way we produce knowledge and the forms of knowledge we value, we need to recognise, even celebrate, its unplanned and messy nature” (Turnbull, 2000, p. 1).

I choose teamwork as the object of my reflection. Teamwork has always been an interesting phenomenon in my life since I believe that human is a social creature and I am, personally, a social person. I value teamwork as the most enriching activities in my life where I could learn from interactions between team members and the moments we experience together. How many times I have experienced working in a team is not a guarantee to do it more easily in the future. There are always challenges coming with different people you work with, different issues you work on or different places you work at. This assignment aims at contemplating the way I have learnt and generate knowledge through my teamwork experiences especially from the work life. It gives me a chance to take a look at my past experiences and to provide meanings to them. Law (2004) notes from a book by David Appelbaum called The Stop (1995) that “the stop…erodes the idea that by taking in the distance at a glance we can get an overview of a single reality” (p. 10). Therefore, I hope by doing this assignment I could learn more about my self and everything contributes to my life. “In the presence of uncertainty, one is obligated to learn from experience” (Shulman, 2005). To achieve this aim, I would like to examine the conceptions and practices used to produce knowledge in teamwork. I would identify, describe and deconstruct the knowledge spaces in which I have to operate in collaborating. I also provide theories and arguments from literature and relate them to teamwork experiences.

Collaboration in Teamwork

We had a schooling program which aimed at building students awareness on the environment through insect and fish. The Ford Motor Company funded this program. We worked with the Insect Museum, Fresh Water Aquarium Garden and schools which consist of elementary schools and junior high schools. The program was designed in series: presentation, field trip and experimental work. We challenged them to think about how insect and fish relate to the human living environment. At first, we had meetings to construct the scheme of the program. Then, we combined each other expertise and collaborated in implementing the program. We also managed the schedule with schools and tried to fit the content of our program with the school curriculum.

The paragraph above was only a brief description of one of our projects. The teamwork was not always taken place in a table where the three of us sit together and discuss a topic. We had discussion everywhere and whenever we felt we need to talk. We usually got inspiration from a light conversation we had during lunch time where most people from all divisions gathered and shared their experiences. Then, we started to identify what we could do in our division regarding the issue we discussed. We gave each other suggestions and ideas. The discussion mostly started with one topic which led to other more interesting questions. Therefore, the initial plan might come accidentally from a light discussion during lunch time. This premature plan would become a formal and internal debate within my sub-division. This follow-up discussion continues with equipment, such as butcher’s paper, markers, printouts of data or information regarding the topic, notebook, other stationery, laptop and snacks. Each member has their roles and responsibilities. Our supervisor mostly conducted the discussions; however, there were always chances for other team members to run the debate since we had duties in administering a program for each project. Therefore, if our supervisor conducted the discussion, I would be the note-taker, and the apprentice would be responsible for preparing the equipment. There were no specific rules which define our roles in collaborating. We already had a universal agreement on our roles, and if one of us were absent or could not complete their tasks, other members would try to cover.

Teamwork creates its spaces were situated in different approaches, with various aspects of who involves, what tools are used and how they mix coherently. According to Turnbull (2000), “Knowledge spaces have a wide diversity of components: people, skills, local knowledge and equipment that are linked by social strategies and technical devices …” (p. 20). The one who runs the discussion wrote the outline, content and summary of the discussion in a butcher’s paper. It is the way we record every discussion. We also had minutes taken by the note-taker. Therefore, the butcher’s paper is an informal record of the discussion since it would be messy and full of on and off topic, we had during the discussion. However, it would help the note-taker to complete the formal one which is minutes. In carrying a project, we also had records by using a voice recorder, video camera or at least, digital camera. The products of these recording were included in the final report which was sent to a funding institution, our partners and schools. According to Mulcahy (2007), the skills and equipment we use in doing teamwork are considered as “knowledge as representation” and the actions such as, facilitating, asking questions or networking is considered as “knowledge as performative” (p. 14) As we need to recognize that the importance is to know that knowledge is not only formed but also symbolized as product (Barad, 2003). Turnbull (as cited in Mulcahy, 2007, p. 16) states that “if knowledge is recognized as both representational and performative it will be possible to create a space in which knowledge traditions can be performed together”.

The work we do in a team formally starts when we plan to have a formal discussion about a topic. We arranged a schedule when the three of us could meet since I was doing part-time and the apprentice was a university student. We tried to respect each other priorities. We also managed to divide responsibilities in preparing the discussion. In running a discussion, we decided to facilitate each other to create a stimulating and critical debate. The one who runs the discussion would come with a general comment about the topic and lead to a more specific aspect of how we would construct a plan. There were always rooms for us to interrupt if we need further explanations. We also tried to give each other a chance to finish an argument before we challenge it. Therefore, there were always interruptions which sometimes went quite far from the context. However, we would never underestimate interruptions since we always considered any interaction is part of individual capacity building and discussion is a learning process. The interactions among member in our team happened quite smoothly. We believe that trust is essential in our communication. Steven Shapin (as cited in Turnbull, 2000, p. 20) asserts that “the basis of knowledge is not empirical verification, but trust: ‘Trust is, quite literally, the great civility…’.” Therefore, if we got confused on a particular issue, we could automatically ask for clarification without hesitation, and this would result in another stimulating discussion. We called it ‘enriching intermezzo’.

The process of exchanging information is the social practice where I create my knowledge space. The theory is propounded by Turnbull (2000), “The interactive, contingent assemblage of space and knowledge, sustained and created by social labour, results in what I call a ‘knowledge space’” (p. 4). The information is exchanged from a light conversation during lunch time to a formal discussion where there was always communication, both verbal and non-verbal in which Turnbull (2000) explains as “dialectical knowledge production” (p. 4). Moreover, throughout the process all people who are engaged in every discussion become a knowledge producer. It also could be explained as the process of giving and taking of information which is then transformed into knowledge. Turnbull (2000) notes that “to move knowledge…knowledge producers deploy a variety of social strategies and technical devices for creating the equivalences and connections between otherwise heterogeneous and isolated knowledge” (p. 20).

This process if very enriching for all team members since we came from different educational backgrounds even though we graduated from the same university. I studied Landscape Architecture, and the other team members studied Plant Protection. It is more interesting that we worked in a different area. However, since we graduated from the same faculty which is agriculture, we shared the same beliefs and concerns toward the environment. “Communication, understanding, equality and diversity…will only come from finding ways to work together in joint rationalities and in knowledge spaces constituted through these joint rationalities” (Turnbull, 2000, p. 13). Therefore, in achieving the goal based on the same beliefs, we create our knowledge space. The work required us to be able to have managerial skills especially on managing a project which means we also have to be able to work with people. Working on education in particular also deals with human psychology. Thus, we were obliged to learn social science which we did not learn in university. As Shulman (2005) mentioned, “one learns to engage in the practice.” How we managed the insufficiency in skills and knowledge is also explained as “learning how to act under conditions where knowledge is limited” (Shulman, 2005). For those reasons, we always tried to help each other to develop and learn from every single thing we experience. We compensated the gap we had through learning by doing.

Furthermore, we encouraged each other’s participation by facilitation. We learnt the facilitating skills by experimenting within the teamwork in discussions and at fieldwork. We trained each other how to do facilitation and evaluated; moreover, we supported each other to improve the way we facilitate people. In signature pedagogy explained by Shulman (2005) that “students feel deeply engage” since “learning requires that students feel visible and accountable”. As an analogy of signature pedagogy, the way we facilitate each other in teamwork helped us in collaborative learning. Richard Pring (as cited in Klein, 1990, p. 27) asserts that ‘integrated’ and ‘interdisciplinary are different, as he explained further that “’integration’ incorporates the idea of unity between forms of knowledge and their respective disciplines, whereas ‘interdisciplinary’ simply refers to the use of more than one discipline in pursuing a particular inquiry”. In regards with what he argued I think what we have done in a teamwork activity is a mixture of both integration and interdisciplinary because in teamwork we aim at the same goal by incorporating each member’s knowledge.

Conclusion

Reflecting how teamwork operates and how we collaborate to produce knowledge, it comes to my sense that cooperation is one of the most influencing learning styles or in this case, I should say knowledge production which I maintain throughout my life. There is a variety of knowledge traditions which are performed through the whole interactions in doing the teamwork. In teamwork, each member contributes in creating the knowledge space where we also assemblage the entire aspects of which are embodied in knowledge production. Collaboration is a place where the interdisciplinarity takes place. Even though Klein (1990) concludes that most people engage in interdisciplinary work are “lack of professional identity” (p. 13); however, this might be helpful to stimulate the process of knowledge generation. By removing the individual attribute and maintaining the existing personal knowledge traditions, there will be a higher possibility of generating knowledge which will enrich individual capacity. I realized that many aspects contribute to individual knowledge production. These are not always obviously seen or felt. I might need to be out of my knowledge space and contemplate the knowledge tradition to know what I know and how I know them. Moreover, the interaction and collaboration in teamwork allow each team member to explore the assemblages that influence their knowledge production and maintain their knowledge space.

Bibliography
  • Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 28(3), 801.
  • Klein, J. T. (1990). The Evolution of Interdisciplinarity. In Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory and Practice (pp. 19 – 39). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Law, J. (2004). After method: an introduction. In J. Urry (Ed.), After Method: Mess in social science research (pp. 1 – 17). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Mulcahy, D. (2007, August 13). Challenges to Singularity: Modern Knowledge and Its Critique. Lecture notes 2007 (pp. 1- 24). Melbourne: The University of Melbourne.
  • Shulman, L. S. (2005). Pedagogies of Uncertainty. Liberal Education, 91(2), 18-25.
  • Turnbull, D. (2000). From rationality to messiness: Rethinking technoscientific knowledge. In Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers (pp. 1 -17). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Turnbull, D. (2000). ‘On with the motley’: The contingent assemblage of knowledge spaces. In Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers (pp. 19 – 52). London and New York: Routledge.

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