Friday, 10 May 2013

Working in teams: A graduate attribute. Collaboration versus Cooperation

Collaboration or Cooperation

In research undertaken by the author in recent times it was found that the particular institution was not meeting its stated goals in terms of producing graduates who were able to work in teams and had developed the abilities and skills to collaborate effectively. This was in spite of the enormous effort by individual teachers and (what was thought to be) careful design of curricula to ensure that students (over a period of years) had many opportunities to engage in team work in a variety of subjects/courses.

How could this be? In subsequent discussions with both student focus groups and academic staff a common picture emerged. This involved:
  • assigning students (either self-selected or chosen by the lecturer) into groups in order for a team to undertake a particular assignment or assessment task;
  • providing templates or guides that outlined the various components required of team members to complete the team-based assignment; and
  • developing assessment protocols or rubrics to assess student learning (but not necessarily individual student learning).
So what happened? It was found that the students did the sensible thing to maximise their opportunities and their time: they chose to divide and conquer. From a student's perspective, this is a very sensible strategy. Each student takes on a particular responsibility (e.g., one student does the lit review, another designs the survey, while the third writes methodology). That is: they Cooperate. The result is a team that cooperates very well with each other but the amount of Collaboration is limited to ensuring the various parts fit together in a reasonable manner for a final submission.

So what to do?  This is where technology can help innovation. At my current institution we are working on ways of using various hardware and collaborative applications, where students in teams work on documents or research projects simultaneously. One such solution to this issue and one of the better tools for this process is Google Docs. Multiple students can work on the same document simultaneously, seeing each other's contributions and editing each other's text. Therefore classroom design (if this is a face-to-face process) is a crucial part of the process, With a shared central monitor that is large enough so that all members of the team can see it and engage with the single shared document in real time an absolute necessity (and multiple stations across the room). In a fully online environment the same effect is achieved by using a cloud-based document that all students work on simultaneously. With a product like Google Docs (and there are other examples) the history of changes can be seen in the contributions by individuals in the team accessed. We are undertaking work in this area in my current institution in a number of academic disciplines. The room (one of) is shown below. Stay tuned for updates.

The Collaborative spaceThe Collaborative space

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