Developing Collaborative Skills through Pedagogical Example

Students collaborate in group with light bulb idea above them

Regardless of one’s academic discipline or the courses that we teach, college faculty members share a responsibility to prepare our students for success in our courses and academic programs, their professional careers, and ultimately, for life in general. While this is a seemingly formidable challenge, it is one that we, as members of the teaching profession, are called to embrace and achieve.

While illustrating the premise of this article using our capstone business course, Business Policy, that is taken by all business students regardless of their major, we believe the relevance and application of this approach has a rightful place in many college or university courses. It is an approach that recognizes the integral role that collaboration plays in achieving success throughout life. It incorporates our role as college faculty in facilitating the development of collaborative skills while students are under our tutelage, and equips them with the importance of honing these skills throughout their personal and professional lives.

While collaboration is commonly understood to be the ability of individuals to interact and function together towards some desired result, it must also be recognized that achieving collaborative success, as measured by various personal or professional goals, requires the development of requisite collaborative skills.

Developing the Business Capstone Course

The development of our business capstone course has taken place over many years and has involved the collaboration of a number of faculty members. While the course has a number of course learning objectives, the mission of the course could be summarized as preparing graduates to “think and act strategically.” We seek to facilitate a meaningful, experiential learning experience through which students develop a “strategic mindset” that will serve them well throughout their future personal and professional pilgrimage.

With the capstone course, we build on the knowledge and skill development of the various business core and specialization courses. We introduce a strategic management framework that students are expected to use as they complete various consulting assignments throughout the course. These projects require students working in consulting teams to utilize and enhance their decision making, problem solving, and communication skills. We further seek to enhance our graduates’ delegation, leadership, teamwork, conflict management, and time management skills. We view this collection of skills as essential “collaborative skills” that we seek to fulfill the mission of our business school of “preparing our graduates with the sustainable skill set necessary to succeed throughout their professional careers.”

Collaborating with Faculty

Just as collaboration is important to the present success of our students and their future success as graduates, collaboration is also valuable as we develop and deliver the courses that we teach as college faculty members.  We should always remember that as faculty “members,” we are members of a team assembled for the noble purpose of preparing our graduates for success throughout their lives and careers. We should thus embrace the merit of collaborating with our colleagues in the processes of shepherding the development and revision of our courses and their delivery. Our students are not the only ones who should and can benefit through collaboration.

What typically comes to mind regarding faculty collaboration with colleagues is working together in the essential areas of course and curriculum development. While this is the delimited reality of faculty collaboration in many colleges and universities, we have found that even greater benefits can accrue from the collaboration among faculty in the actual delivery—or teaching—of courses. While this can certainly involve team teaching certain courses, it also can involve innovative approaches including having faculty from other disciplines participate in one or more sessions of a course. A traditional example of this would be to involve a member of the writing arts faculty to assist students in the development of professional written communication skills targeted at their major. Involving a faculty member from another academic department or school to provide students with a necessary technical understanding of his or her field before students begin to work on related class projects would be a more innovative example of collaboration with the expanded cadre of a college or university’s faculty.

Incorporating Faculty and Administrators

In recent years we have incorporated faculty and administrators in a number of creative ways in the delivery of our business capstone course.  These colleagues are involved in planning their respective roles in the course in addition to participating in one or more class sessions.

For a number of years, our business faculty librarian has participated in this course by preparing students to understand and effectively utilize information sources in successful decision making and problem solving. The three aspects of this role have included:

  1. Conducting in-class briefings on available information resources and search techniques
  2. Providing reference support as student teams conduct necessary research related to course consulting projects
  3. Providing a briefing for graduates regarding post-graduation information needs, sources, and utilization

More recently, our business faculty librarian has facilitated a group decision-making exercise designed as an “ice breaker” and preparation tool before students embark on the challenges of completing their assigned consulting projects. This exercise has been extremely well received by students and has contributed to an early “ramping up” of team cohesiveness and productivity.

We have also involved our professional development manager. While this started out as an opportunity to share the services provided by this value-added office and the numerous ways that our students can avail themselves of these services as they prepare for, seek, and secure meaningful career opportunities, we have now introduced a senior career experience that includes the development of individual career assessments and professional development plans that utilize the strategic planning methodology taught and utilized in completing the consulting projects in the course.

In addition to enhancing the learning experience and value of the course for students, this collaborative approach demonstrates to students the importance of developing and utilizing collaborative skills as it models their use by faculty. Students have commented that they appreciate our efforts designed to equip them with the complete set of skills that will serve them well as they venture out to live and work in the real world.  

As teaching faculty, we have similarly gained an increased appreciation for the value and role of collaboration as we seek to prepare our graduates to face the many challenges of the dynamic world in which we live and work. Through collaboration, we have learned from each other and enhanced our ability and passion to prepare our students to succeed in a world that will certainly benefit from a generation of graduates with the collaborative skills and purpose to enhance their organizations, society, and world through the skillful use of the collaborative skills that they perhaps first encountered in our classes.

We challenge you to consider how you might  enhance your teaching effectiveness and outcomes through additional collaboration with your faculty colleagues. We owe our students nothing less as we continually seek to discover ways to further enhance their preparedness for life and work.

Bio: Dr. Robert S. Fleming is a professor of management and past dean of the Rowan University Rohrer College of Business. The focus of his teaching, research, and consulting is on enhancing organizational effectiveness. He is a life-long student of teaching and learning.