Greenhouse Studios has always been concerned with fostering meaningful work using digital tools as a medium. However, the members of Greenhouse Studios, and the Digital Humanities movement as a whole, often rely on physical space to cultivate collaboration as well. While Greenhouse Studios has always used virtual spaces such as Google Docs and Slack in our design process, having a physical space filled with whiteboards, screens, notepads, and other tools has been integral to the process of collaboration. Since the beginning of COVID-19 and the practice of social distancing, Greenhouse Studios has been searching for creative solutions to try to replicate the physical space of the design process. These efforts are exemplified in a recent 2 week fully virtual collaboration by the team.
The team took up the project with the prompt “Social Distance” and condensed the design process to fit a 2 week timeline. Throughout the early, discussion-heavy phases of the project, the team used WebEx, Mural, and Google Docs to replicate synchronous, conversation-based brainstorming. As the project progressed, the team also communicated through Slack and Mural asynchronously. The team even experimented with using the app House Party to try to simulate the random encounters in physical workspaces. All of these tools were used to help create a sense of a common “place” where everyone in the project could meet and share ideas.
Overall, the project was successful, and the team learned a lot about planning and managing online collaboration efforts. The result was a video that explores why people are driven, both voluntarily and involuntarily, to isolate through history and the present moment.
At the heart of the Greenhouse Studios design process is the concept of “collaboration from the start.” All too often collaborators are brought on board at a late stage merely to implement or put the finishing touches on scholarly projects, not to conceptualize them. This is particularly true with respect to designers and developers, whose labor and expertise are typically used in a service capacity to support the work of credentialed faculty researchers. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with hiring a developer to build a website for a scholarly research project, or having a design technologist create colorful and engaging data visualizations. Indeed, designers, developers and other technologists can enhance conventional research outputs, especially at the publication and dissemination stages, by making them more accessible, more engaging and more comprehensible to broader audiences.
But what happens when collaborators with expertise in design and technology are part of a project team from the very beginning? Moreover, what happens when technologists work alongside other diverse researchers, whose respective fields may lie adjacent to one another, but rarely overlap?
When people ask me about what we do at Greenhouse Studios, it is challenging to distill all of its ambitions into a easily digestible tidbit. Ultimately, we are attempting to change the way scholarship is produced. As a result, many of Greenhouse Studios’ features are responsive to the limitations of mainstream academic practice. In this post, I thought I would share an in-depth explanation of the Understand phase, the first phase stage of collaboration in the Greenhouse Studios design process. I will describe our current process with a degree of generality, as we are constantly evaluating its efficacy and suggesting possible tweaks. I’ll explain how this first phase sets the stage for our teams to generate innovative forms of scholarship.
When you walk into the Greenhouse Studios space, you are greeted by a giant hand-painted mural of our design process model. As your eyes follow the flexible path and big colorful circles which represent the phases of our process, you are transported to a world of inquiry, collaboration, innovation, and creativity. River Soma, one of our graduate assistants and a UConn Studio Art MFA candidate with a concentration in sculpture, is the mastermind of the work of art. River has been working with Greenhouse Studios since the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester and has been a fantastic addition to the studio- her curiosity and artistry has proven to be valuable assets. She is the curator of the current art exhibition in our space, which previews the works of the third-year MFA Studio Art students. The works of art really light up the space, just like River’s positive charisma! Read the following interview questions below to learn more about River Soma and the design process model mural she painted.
River Soma (Left) juxtaposed next to her famous work of art look alike
Greenhouse Studios, a new research unit at the University of Connecticut, is beginning implementation of a collaboration-first approach for the creation and communication of scholarship thanks to a $789,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This award is the first of its kind at UConn and part of the Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications program, a multi-pronged effort to accelerate the evolution of scholarly practice and academic publishing to meet the opportunities and challenges of the digital age. Greenhouse Studios is a joint effort of the University Library, School of Fine Arts, and the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, with each contributing resources and personnel to advance scholarly communications research. “Greenhouse Studios represents the kind of bold commitment to interdisciplinary research that our academic plan identified as central to solving the problems of the 21st century and to cementing UConn’s place as a driver of innovation and excellence within the State of Connecticut and around the world,” says Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeremy Teitelbaum.