Good question. Here’s the best answer we have now, with the usual caveats that it’s a rough draft and our understanding continues to evolve. It’s my rendering of ideas originating from Lynn Stein and others.
First of all, it’s important to know what the Collaboratory is NOT:
- It is not a “center” at Olin, the way other colleges have centers for teaching and learning, or centers for curriculum development.
- It is not a copy machine for making more Olins in other places — Olin is Olin, and other schools should be themselves. Engaging with each other helps us become better versions of ourselves.
- It is not a shipping dock for exporting Olin to the world. I myself have described the Collaboratory as “Olin’s outreach arm,” as if Olin were a separate thing and the Collaboratory was simply a distribution mechanism — but that’s an oversimplified explanation and artificially separates the Collaboratory from Olin.
Great, that’s what the Collaboratory ISN’T… but then what IS the Collaboratory? This question is harder to answer, but one version is that it’s another way to engage with Olin’s aspirations.
Think of Olin as a building where faculty live, with multiple doors for entry: one is the academic door students walk into. This is the system that we know how to run — for all our innovation, we are still a college, and we know how to get students into, through, and graduated from our college.
There is another door to the same building. People-who-aren’t-students walk through to engage with us — faculty from other institutions, industry visitors curious about how they can learn from our experiments, thinktanks and government officials, journalists — people who want to learn from Olin, but who don’t study at Olin.
That door is the Collaboratory. It’s another way to enter the same Olin. We’re still building it, and everyone who walks through that door shapes and reshapes it — and the building — with us.