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.
[caption id="attachment_5009" align="aligncenter" width="403"] Image description: Three simple marker sketches. The page is labeled "The Collaboratory is not..." The first sketch is a large version of the Olin logo, with part of of it sectioned out and labeled "Collab(oratory)". It is labeled "a center at Olin," and crossed out with a big red X. The second sketch is a copy machine labeled "Collab(oratory)," with an Olin logo going in and many Olin logos coming out. It is labeled "an Olin cloning machine," and crossed out with a big red X. The third sketch is a factory labeled with the Olin logo, with a truck labeled "Collab(oratory)" driving towards a picture of the planet. It is labeled "an Olin export system" and is crossed out with a big red X.[/caption]
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.
[caption id="attachment_5008" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Image description: A building with the Olin logo on the top. One side of the building has a door labeled "students," and a student is walking into it. Another side of the building has a door labeled "World" and "Collab(oratory)", and a visitor is walking into it. An arrow points to the building saying "faculty live in the box," and the entire thing is captioned with the phrase "another way to enter the same Olin."[/caption]