Our role as instructors has changed dramatically within a decade. Professors are increasingly called to identify alternative practices as an approach toward an ever-changing academic landscape where technology and multimodal pedagogies are introduced within the classroom. Instructors must embrace the responsibility of disseminating and managing the overall instruction of students within a non-traditional environment. Challenges invariably arise when instructors attempt to use new technologies and approaches in the classroom. The most common of these challenges are listed below along with the means to address them.
Defining CollaborationThe first major barrier in working on a collaborative project is in the classification of the term "collaboration" itself. The difficulty lies in ensuring that students understand the fundamental differences between working collaboratively or cooperatively on a project. Collaboration refers to working together in the planning, construction, and evolution of a project from start to finish while cooperation refers to breaking the project into assigned sections to be completed individually before pulling them back together. One key toward creating a truly collaborative environment is to have the students discuss and diagram the generalities of the project together before setting off to work on it. Encourage them to openly discuss goals and means to achieve them, and one student may be designated as the "final editor" who ensures that the final outcome adheres to the group vision.
Student ResistanceWe sometimes encounter students who loathe the idea of group work. They may see collaboration as counterproductive, something to slow them down and prohibit them from completing an assignment when and how they see fit. Emphasize the idea of "shared space" and that each group member ultimately has a hand in the success of the group as a whole. Students may also feel more empowered as individuals if they can grade fellow participants or dismiss those who are not productive. Finally, students should be made aware that the entire group will not necessarily receive the same grade, but that grades are based on individual contribution and effort.
Traditional Concepts of Individualism and OwnershipStudents may fall into the "old habit" of assigning specific roles and responsibilities to each group member. That is, they may tend to work cooperatively rather than collaboratively. Challenge students to work instead as a single unit where ideas are shared and each member has equal ownership of the project. We suggest several practical means toward achieving this goal. For instance, have each student fill out a Technology Survey to ensure a range of expertise when assigning members to groups. Students may also use a wiki to maintain a collaborative project log in order to confirm that group members contribute collaboratively across multipe facets of the project. Finally, ask students to evaluate their respective contributions as well as the efforts of the other group members.
Power and MotivationStudents often feel that the instructor is the ultimate purveyor of knowledge and authority, and that peer opinion holds less value. This distrust presents a significant problem as students may defer to the instructor's authority when issues arise. In other cases, competetive students may feel more motivated by "taking on" their fellow team members, or they may see group work as just another opportunity to prove how much "smarter" or "better" they are. Assure students that our role is that of project manager, not project expert. That is, while we are there to provide general guidance as needed, our primary role is to ensure that all students contribute in a collaborative process and that all voices and ideas are considered. Otherwise, issues and differences of opinion that naturally arise are for the team members themselves to resolve.
Time ManagementOne of the greatest challenges in collaborative work is ensuring that individuals understand and meet group deadlines. To help cope with this ongoing issue, provide students calendars or employ a collaborative project wiki to schedule times to work on the project alone or with other team members. We might also encourage teams to designate a "time manager" who will remind students of deadlines in order to stay on task.
Learning New SoftwareBy having students fill out a technology survey --as recommended above-- we can help ensure that each group has within it a range of technological expertise. Still, gaps in understanding of certain software will likely remain, and students will need to learn to use new tools to complete their project. The learning curve for new software can be lessened by providing students with tutorials and outside resources to reference when they have a question. We can also encourage students to use resources available on our campus such as Design Centers or ICT. Professors sometimes feel guilty when students must spend time outside of class to learn the use of new technologies. Keep in mind that they are acquiring the means of modern composition. Keep an ongoing dialogue with our classes to ensure that students have not become overburdened or frustrated.
Availability of Technological ResourcesOther departments at the university (e.g. Information Technology, Computer Labs, Libraries, and even other disciplines like Art, Communication) often have equipment such as computers and video and audio equipment available for student use. Dedicated university computer labs may also provide a wide range of technology as well as extended hours during the week. Research what technology is availabe at your campus or community, and provide students with as complete of resources as possible. By using calendars or a collaborative project wiki students are able to see when each member has free time to meet up in order to work in the lab. Checking the lab's weekly schedule may also permit students to think of working on the weekends or night, depending on the lab's schedule. Again, we must keep an open dialogue going with our students to remain aware of any issues they encounter regarding availability of technological resources.
- 1.From Decentered, Disconnected, and Digitized: The Importance of Shared Space. "Collabor...co-oper-what?" section found at http://english.ttu.edu/Kairos/11.2/binder.html?topoi/brunk-miller/index.html
- 2.Similar to the survey found at http://lpsl.coe.uga.edu/Projects/AAlaptop/MEMBERS/instrument/initial_student_revisedUS.pdf
- 3.As suggested at https://projectmanagementdemo.pbworks.com/
- 4.As suggested prior and found at https://projectmanagementdemo.pbworks.com/