Study: Higher Education is Starting to Embrace Collaboration

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Collaborative education supported by technology that combines in-class learning with digital tools is one of the top tech trends in higher education, according to New Media Consortium’s annual Horizon Report. Technology is enabling collaboration and learning in ways that students would not be able to otherwise experience.

Collaboration in higher education, between departments and institutions, was also a popular topic during a recent Campus Technology conference. Higher education was compared to a startup business in that both find success through collaboration and teamwork. By gaining a better understanding of the needs and goals of others, collaboration produces innovative solutions.

Collaboration, in a business sense, is the process of sharing ideas, learning from different perspectives, and working together to achieve a specific goal. Collaboration was once limited to face-to-face meetings and phone conferences scheduled far in advance. Today, real-time collaboration can occur almost instantly, regardless of location, via video and audio conferencing tools and social networking applications on mobile devices. Modern file-sharing tools are also an important component of collaboration.

Effective collaboration helps small businesses improve productivity and make business processes more efficient. It allows them to identify and capitalize on the strengths of each employee to better support those processes. It ensures that all employees are on the same page so they can work cohesively and reduce errors. Creating a collaborative culture enables smaller organizations to make faster decisions, improve how they function on a day-to-day basis, solve more problems, and better serve customers. This leads to improvements in customer retention and loyalty.

Collaboration can produce similar value for colleges and universities. While the lack of social interaction has been a longstanding issue for distance learning and traditional online classes, telepresence tools can create a virtual classroom that allows any student to be actively engaged. Video conferencing makes it possible for schools to bring in outside experts to participate in classroom discussions. Schools can also expand the reach of their own experts and programs to almost anywhere in the world. These tools can be used by students outside of the classroom to enable collaboration on group projects and extracurricular activities. By creating a more collaborative student experience, schools can improve student retention and degree completion rates.

While few would dispute the value of bringing workplace collaboration to colleges and universities, there are challenges that are unique to higher education. Some fear collaboration will hamper a student’s ability to learn and make them too reliant on others to succeed. On the other hand, the Association for Psychological Science has noted that collaboration can re-expose learners to information that they may have forgotten. Researchers have also found that collaborative learners do better on critical-thinking tests. Part of the challenge is that students must believe that success and failure are attributed to the team while still maintaining individual accountability. Similarly, there needs to be a way to grade the entire team, not just individuals.

The bottom line is this – students are very likely to enter a workplace in which collaboration is prioritized and highly valued. Schools should be looking for ways to emphasize the importance of collaboration and instill a collaborative mindset to prepare students for that reality.