Community Updates


Conditions for Collaboration

TLC Blogs
By Jean Chisholm, Annie Canto

Posted on February 13, 2024 | Updated February 13, 2024, 9:45am

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In Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook, Pablo Helguera understands collaboration as the “sharing of responsibilities between parties in the creation of something new”.

Over the 2022/2023 academic year, our project with the TLC explored the collaborative nature of working in arts and design education and sought opportunities to reflect on the myriad of seen and unseen processes of group work we have undertaken as relative newcomers to the Emily Carr teaching community. Helguera’s definition of collaboration became a useful foundation to understand our own setting and form questions around: in the context of teaching, how do we share the responsibilities of course or assignment development between two or more people? In what ways do we make space for the “creation of something new” within these collaborations, and how do we support the expertise and experiences of each collaborator to alter, enhance, or transform the classroom? We can look at these questions within the container of a single class or workshop, but we were also drawn to reflecting on the broader pedagogical approach of a department, faculty or institution—what are the conditions that can foster such collaborations within an art and design university, and what barriers do we face?

As recent Emily Carr MFA and MDES graduates, we have experienced the university as a hotspot for spontaneous collaboration and group ideation. We continue to hold onto a belief that the university at its best is a place for research endeavors in one discipline to refract off of material investigations of another, or a hotspot for happenstance relationships built on stairwell bump-ins. But we wondered if our questions around collaborative work continued to emerge because of the unfortunate ways our working conditions can silo participation into lonely corners of our institution. Through this project, we hoped to better understand the interdependence between institutional context and individual or collective expression — that is the notion that “groups, networks, organizations, and institutions shape how creativity is defined, how objects and performance are produced, and how workers come to think of themselves as creative” (Fine 220).

Collaboration as Necessity: Navigations of New Faculty

We started working in the non-regular faculty pool in the fall of 2020, shortly after our COVID graduation. Within this period of massive upheaval and unknowns, we began our sessional career paths in the common but unnamed student-to-teacher transition program of seminar leadership for 200-level theory classes, and from there engaged in different co-teaching exercises, appreciating their value in a system with little onboarding. Our early teaching experiences included a spectrum of collaborative experiences within the classroom (physical and digital):

  • Discussions with fellow seminar leaders, sharing discussion questions and workshop ideas. The frequency of these planning and debrief discussions would vary course to course, typically dependent on the seminar culture set forth by the lead instructor, or the capacity of each seminar leader. At its best, these kinds of check-ins can help seminar leaders plan their lessons and broaden their understanding of the course material, pedagogical approaches, and classroom community.

  • Multi-section co-teaching, where multiple sections of the same course would share assignments, lectures, and guest workshops. This model helps create cohesion and community amongst the cohort of students, and gave space to each instructor to share their expertise, while also sharing workload of course delivery with their co-teaching faculty. This became a valuable space for newer faculty to be supported or mentored, understand the broader goals of the program, and make their contributions to existing curriculum.

  • Single-section co-teaching, where two instructors co-develop and deliver a 3- or 6-credit course together. This is perhaps the most common or broadly understood form of collaborative teaching within Emily Carr, and can take on many different kinds of characteristics, largely determined by the instructors themselves. Typically, the institution will expect that co-teaching instructors split compensation for a single 3- or 6-credit course.

The pay structures that followed our collaborative work indicated a belief that collaborative teaching or course creation is extra stuff, like splitting one person’s creative capacity (let alone the cost of living) in two. But we knew collaboration often added work hours. The richness of working as multiple was only possible because of extra time invested. In this and other ways we could see workload and remuneration dictating a certain kind of individualism and we shared this teaching fellowship as a means to investigate different barriers to collaboration we incur in our workplace.

Ghost Curriculum: Or, How do we share our work with each other?

In one investigation around workload and support structures, we reached out to past and present teaching faculty for original course outlines that had enlivened ECU classrooms once, twice, or not at all (courses that had been planned and proposed, but never ran). We wanted to appreciate the hours of unseen (and unpaid) labour that go into the creation and development of new courses while getting a glimpse into the ghostly undercurrent of creative work woven into an alternative dimension of possible classroom activations. What might Emily Carr look like if these courses—often exploring or dismantling the boundaries of our current disciplines and pedological modes—were a part of our collective institutional memory and practice? And how do they haunt or implicitly inform our current curriculum? We were excited to start compiling this archive, and learn more about our colleagues through these special topics course proposals.

However, course material shared from participants was sometimes accompanied with hesitation. Typically, Emily Carr does not pay instructors for course development (although there have been exceptions), and while the instructor has “sole property” over the materials they produce for a course, Emily Carr retains ownership of curriculum materials and course outlines, and has access to digital course delivery systems (like moodle)[1]. This creates a rather confusing set of conditions where for many faculty it is unclear what elements of a course an instructor can protect as their intellectual property, and what they can or should expect to be recognized and valued for. The precarious employment of the large non-regular pool at Emily Carr only heightens these feelings, and the sessional faculty we spoke to shared stories and fears about the courses they developed being taken and taught by other instructors.

We started to wonder, what does it mean to have autonomy over our work? If it feels like we can’t share our work, or need to hold a protective kind of autonomy over it, what kind of collective pedagogy can we hope to foster at Emily Carr, and what contexts do we need to share our creative work without worry or restrain? The collection of course outlines we did gather turned into Ghost Curriculum—a modest start to an archive that makes visible the residues of labour that hold up and underpin our current pedagogy, and help us imagine an alternative dimension where more exploratory courses are the norm. Ghost Curriculum was presented in the fall of 2022 as part of the Faculty Show This Exhibition is Not an Exhibition at Libby Leshgold Gallery, where the course descriptions were available in the gallery. These course descriptions will be printed in the fall 2023 issue of Reflector.

Ghost Curriculum also caught the attention of library science doctoral candidate from UBC, Andrea Kampen, resulting in a series of conversations around non-happening, non-events, and nothings and how they appear in archival practices. In lively pub meet-ups we differentiated between events that could happen and events that never would. In the latter version, an under-the-surface reality of canceled or rejected gatherings reveal another story of a place and time. Ghost Curriculum was intended to be a small expression of what kinds of infrastructure might support collaboration as a pedagogical foundation, but we butted up against a creative culture that is shaped by the exploitative, precarious, and individualistic nature of neo-liberal academic institutions, where faculty are forced to compete with each other. Our research became fueled by an overarching question, What conditions are necessary for collaboration? And more specifically, how are those conditions present or not present in our university context and what structures do we need in order to equitably share the responsibility of continually creating new pedagogy?

Collaboration as Ongoing Transformation

One promising and emerging space of collaborative pedagogy we experienced was the Instructional Skills Workshops (ISW), hosted by the Teaching and Learning Centre. Organized as an intensive workshop over 4 and half days, ISW brings together a small group of faculty (typically 4 or 5), and invites them to lead three micro ten-minute lessons, and participate in the micro lessons of their colleagues. The result is a rich and rare opportunity to teach and receive feedback from fellow instructors in a risk-free environment, while also experiencing a wide range of material and pedagogical approaches (our group included art history, design, drawing and ceramics instructors).

The workshop provided an invaluable opportunity for new and experienced instructors to reflect on their teaching practices while also building community with their colleagues, and prompts us to imagine the ways this kind of sharing and collaboration (whether formally or informally) can be supported within the school. Like the other forms of collaboration discussed, the limits of faculty capacity and fair compensation afforded by the institution present challenges and barriers. Our attention turns to asking how might collaboration be valued and prioritized by community (both faculty and the broader institutional structure), and what potential might a pedagogy rooted in collaborative practices hold.

Another place we found teeming with collaborative capacity was our Faculty Association. Our question about necessary conditions for collaboration grew more intricate as we observed months of open bargaining sessions headed towards an overdue and updated Collective Agreement. This document between the faculty and the university upholds years of work to create fair working conditions for our community grounded in the culminated data of membership needs. We’re hopeful that the conditions necessary for collaboration will come to fruition as our working conditions improve.

Saara Limmamaa notes that collaboration is ultimately an expression of compromise, and that compromise can take many forms [2]. How can we acknowledge and repair the ways our current conditions create feelings of being compromised, placing many members of our community in states of vulnerability and precarity? If radical transformation requires active and constant reinvention of the institution (paperson), let’s find ways to practice compromise in ways that recombine and “forge alternatives” (Limmamma 5). For us, this process started with sharing stories and pedagogy with each other, in spaces where we felt safe and valued. How these practices multiply and refract across our institution sits in conditions we build together.

[1] Collective Agreement 2022-2025, ARTICLE 40 – INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS, 40.02 General: “The Faculty recognizes the University’s ownership of the curriculum and of the material developed which defines that curriculum, such as course outlines.

"A Faculty Member’s lecture materials, demonstrations, written or graphic materials, audio visual, digital, or new media materials and any other teaching aids which the Faculty Member creates, develops, acquires or introduces into the University in support of that Faculty Member’s teaching or teaching related functions shall be the Faculty Member’s sole property and shall not be used by others without the Faculty Member’s permission, with the exception of course outlines which are the property of the University.”

[2] Saara Linnamaa, The New Spirit of Creativity: Work, Compromise, and the Art and Design University, 1: “Compromise here can be most simply defined as the ways in which an artist and that artist's creative activities are able to coexist, to some degree or another, in the world. Compromise can either strengthen or erode creative practices.”


Emily Carr University of Art and Design Faculty Association, & Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Collective Agreement 2019-2022.

Fine, Gary Alan. Talking Art: The Culture of Practice and the Practice of Culture in MFA Education. University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Helguera, Pablo. Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. Jorge Pinto Books, 2011.

Liinamaa, Saara. The New Spirit of Creativity: Work, Compromise, and the Art and Design University. University of Toronto Press, 2022

Paperson, La. “A Third University Is Possible.” Forerunners, 2017,