Collaboration is a powerful strategy for achieving shared goals and approaching shared opportunities and solving problems. Collaborations are opportunities to accomplish together what can’t be done alone. They represent opportunity to solve a shared problem, or meet a common challenge that is clearly and easily relatable to the needs of the participants and the goals of the institution (as illustrated in the Statement of Shared Purpose).
But when we talk about collaboration we tend to use the term rather loosely. When we reference collaboration, we actually mean something more like cooperation, coordination, or simple networking. All of these strategies have distinct attributes, benefits, risks, and organizational principles as outlined in the Collaboration Continuum:
- Networking: exchanging information for mutual benefit. This is easy to do; it requires low initial level of trust, limited time availability and no sharing of turf.
- Coordinating: exchanging information and altering some activities for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Coordination requires more organizational involvement than networking with a slightly higher level of trust and some sharing of one’s “turf.”
- Cooperating: exchanging information, altering activities and sharing resources for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Cooperation is more formal than coordination and thus requires increased organizational commitment and support and may involve written agreements (Memoranda of Understanding, Project Charters, etc.). Shared resources can include human, financial and technical contributions across organizational boundaries. Cooperation may require a substantial amount of time, high level of trust and significant sharing of turf. Positions may need to be modified to provide time for participation.
- Collaborating: real collaboration involves exchanging information, altering activities, sharing resources and enhancing each other’s capacity for mutual benefit and to achieve a common goal. The qualitative difference between collaboration and cooperating is that partners are willing to learn from each other to become better at what they do, together. Collaborators are clear that the importance of partners’ success is as great as their own – their own success depends on their partners’ success. Collaborating means that that partners share the risks, responsibilities and rewards. It requires a substantial time commitment, very high level of trust, and sharing of turf.
Collaborative efforts are successful when they are supported from the top down and the bottom up. Administrative support and sponsorship is needed to allow all partners to make decisions about process and resources in a collaborative manner. In this environment both faculty and staff are open and willing to go beyond “business as usual.”
In the development of successful digital curriculum, faculty and staff partner in a truly collaborative manner. Staff partners may include academic technologists, instructional designers, media specialists, students, and librarians. In this model staff are more than “helpful staffers,” they are fundamental to the process. College faculty and staff working to support the digital learning initiative will need to develop these skills together.
On many college campuses there is pressure to develop “innovative” initiatives such as digital scholarship, blended learning, and flipped classrooms. Among other things this will stem from a general awareness (or uneasiness) that colleges must take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital approaches to research and pedagogy. However, without a programmatic approach with a clear statement of shared purpose to inform the implementation of best practices in digital scholarship and pedagogy, “innovative” experimentation will remain as insulated and isolating projects rather than successful programs.
The statement of purpose is not a mission or vision statement. It is a touchstone program document that outlines the specifics of the opportunity, a problem to be solved, why a solution will benefit faculty, staff, and students, and the organizational roles that will be affected. It is foundational to articulating a shared vision that can be readily communicated to participants and supporters such as funding agencies. It is an initial step in explaining the “why” and in minimizing confusion. It does not attempt to describe specific solutions.
Components of the statement
Drafting the statement of purpose is an important first step in developing a sustainable program. It will help identify the shared (or intersecting) goals that justify the effort and expense of such a significant project. It describes the purpose – outlining why the institution is making the effort and what problem the effort will solve.
A statement of purpose should be concise and include the following:
- A brief description of the opportunity or issue at hand.
- Where the issue or opportunity is observed e.g., departments, institution-wide, and/or processes.
- The time frame over which the opportunity has been observed and anticipated duration.
- The anticipated scope or magnitude of the opportunity – the impact to be realized.
Uses of the statement
The statement of purpose:
- Clarifies the situation by specifically identifying the issues or opportunities at hand.
- Clarifies the urgency and time sensitivity associated with the effort.
- Provides a vehicle to ensure increasing buy-in.
- Helps secure support, develop funding potential, and identify and cultivate champions.
- Helps leadership, partners, and funders grasp and appreciate what you are working to accomplish (and why) and helps to communicate the opportunity to other interested parties.
Many campuses have already accomplished much of the work of developing a statement of purpose through the work of various committees and task forces. That effort often results in several general observations and questions including the need to:
- Develop a program that will enhance and improve the experience of the current population of students.
- Identify how to enhance the liberal education offered by the college using digital technologies.
- Determine how the college will improve its effectiveness through the use of digital learning tools and strategies.
- Identify best practices with digital learning strategies as they relate to liberal education.
- Develop a system to identify programs and courses that constitute exemplars for digital pedagogy.
- Review organizational development necessary for sustaining these curricular models.
- Review required improvements to the college infrastructure.
- Identify what it will it take to institute these changes.
The next step is to convert the existing work into a clear statement of shared purpose that lays out the attributes described above. The completed statement will specify the affected institutional roles and articulate why the program is being developed. The effort put into this document will serve to secure support for the skills, incentives and resources necessary to develop a sustained Digital Scholarship and Pedagogy program for faculty, students and staff.