What does collaboration really look like?

Richard_Ray200Moving past the “warm glow” takes effort

By Richard Ray, Hope College

Collaboration is an idea that most in higher education find attractive. Yet, most efforts at collaboration fail to take root if they do not move beyond the initial warm glow of inter- or intra-institutional friendliness. The following points can prove helpful in establishing and sustaining fruitful collaborations that serve the needs of all partners and also stand the test of time:

1. Focus as much on the relationship as on the project(s). Collaborators must—above all else—deal with each other in a spirit of honesty. Partnerships usually involve some degree of sacrifice for the accomplishment of mutual goals. Being honest about the nature of those sacrifices is important.

2. Define the project’s goals as precisely as possible. Each partner should understand—and be accountable for—the objectives to be pursued. The best objectives are usually those that are measurable according to mutually acceptable timeframes.

3. Specify who will be responsible for each aspect of the project. This is standard stuff for projects that are contained within a single unit or institution, but sometimes overlooked in collaborative efforts. Bear in mind that, depending on the nature of the project, different institutional partners may be responsible for a different number of objectives.

4. Evaluate the relationship regularly. How well are the original goals for collaborating being met? Is the circle of those within the participating institutions being widened, or is the collaboration narrowly “owned” by one or two people? Does the collaboration make financial sense for both partners? What problems have been identified, and how can they be minimized? Have new opportunities been identified?

Every collaboration takes on the “personality” of its participants. Close attention to the human aspects of the collaboration provides the flexibility that is required to make something that is often hard to sustain both successful and productive.

Richard Ray, provost and professor of Kinesiology, Hope College, Holland Michigan, has served as Provost at Hope College since 2010, where he has been a professor of kinesiology since 1982. 

crystal_sands200Working together means listening to all voices and eliminating the blame game

By Crystal Sands, Excelsior College

One of the biggest struggles for colleges across the country is in preparing students with the kinds of written and oral communication skills they need as professionals. The National Commission on Writing reported that American companies are spending billions of dollars annually to provide additional training in writing for their employees.

And, as colleges and universities work to provide more and better writing instructions for their students, collaborating on Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) projects and initiatives becomes a necessity.

The following tips are in no way comprehensive, but summarize some of my biggest lessons from working on WAC initiatives for nearly twenty years, and, hopefully, give those who are working on similar projects some things to consider.

1. We can’t solve writing problems with one writing course—or even two—at the beginning of a student’s academic career. Therefore, it is necessary to teach writing in all classes, working together to build upon the foundations begun for students in introductory writing courses.

2. The field of writing instruction provides important research about assignment design, process, and the evaluation of writing. Making sure those who are versed in this research have their voices heard at the institutional level is imperative.

3. Writing faculty need to teach and listen when it comes to working with faculty in other disciplines, paying close attention to the writing needs of specific disciplines.

4. WAC committees should take advantage of free resources that are available. Free writing resources like the Excelsior College OWL provide support that can be used in any course that requires writing. Sharing common resources is a great way to build bridges for faculty—and students.

5. Finally, we have to stop playing the “blame game” when it comes to writing issues. At every level, we need to work to meet our students where they are and provide them with the writing support they need. There are many reasons why students struggle with writing, and we are not helping anyone when writing faculty blame public schools, when faculty in the disciplines blame writing faculty, and so on.

It takes a group effort—and a monumental effort at that—to improve students’ writing skills in a way that lasts their lifetimes.

Crystal Sands, PhD, is the executive director of the Excelsior College Online Writing Lab and has been teaching college-level writing and working on writing across the curriculum initiatives for nearly twenty years.

(Next page: Consider consortia)

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