Keeping the collaboration love alive

A number of us at the DCU Teaching Enhancement Unit have been having conversations recently about the pros and cons of working with other people on educational research projects. As self-proclaimed blended professionals (as per Whitchurch, 2009), we sometimes become involved in collaborative research projects with lecturers and other staff. Amongst other things, the involvement of a learning technologist or academic developer on a research project can potentially:

  • Help source relevant literature from educational research
  • Advise on relevant learning theory
  • Provide input on methodology and ethics
  • Highlight potential journals/calls for papers
  • Review and provide feedback on abstracts and drafts
  • Advise on the structure and writing of paper
  • Act as a critical friend and sounding board for ideas

The advantages are mutual. For our part, working with lecturers on research projects gives us a deep insight into the challenges of teaching at university, raises awareness of pedagogical issues in particular disciplines, and helps us to stay abreast of emerging and evidence-based technologies and approaches. It also helps us to build up our network and portfolio of publications and who doesn’t want that?

But there’s a but…

While for the most part, these have been very positive experiences, leading to scholarly outputs that were significantly better for the multiple perspectives, there can be some risks involved, particularly with new working relationships. A recent article on co-authoring from Times Higher Education would seem to confirm the benefits of a pre-nup agreement of some kind to help negotiate the process. In particular, the following paragraph on the importance of clear division of labour stood out:

The transition from initial idea to published artefact usually involves a significant amount of time and effort pursuing a variety of tasks. These range from scanning the literature to gathering data, and from negotiating with editors to making the diagrams look presentable. For your co-authoring experience to feel collaborative it helps that these tasks are identified and shared among the members of your authoring team. Be clear on who is doing which bits.

My colleagues and I agreed that it might be a good idea to share the THE article upfront with those who might be new to the co-authoring process. Indeed one of my colleagues is working on a detailed set of guidelines for collaborative authorship, including the thorny questions of author order, what constitutes a ‘significant intellectual contribution’, and ownership of data.

Collaboration Checklist

Taking this one step further, I would also like to suggest that it might be helpful to review a checklist to confirm “who is doing which bits”. Once you’ve agreed that you’d like to work together, then it’s time to get down to some nitty gritty and ask questions such as:

  • What is the agreed order of author names?
  • Who is going to source potential publication opportunities?
  • Who is going to draft and submit the ethical clearance forms?
  • Who is going to write and submit the abstract?
  • Who is going to write the introduction, literature review, methodology, discussion, conclusion? (Or whatever format has been agreed.)
  • Who is going to review and provide constructive feedback on the first draft? How will that feedback be delivered?
  • How often will you meet?
  • Who is going to liaise with the publisher from beginning to end?

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list but it might prompt some useful thinking about who is doing what and when. I would be of the view that the person listed as first author should typically do the lion’s share of the above – but it is entirely context-dependent and some writers may prefer a much more organic (and arguably more collaborative) approach to the writing process.Ultimately, it should be about working well together so you have to go with an approach that suits all involved. If you can establish that approach sooner rather than later, the chances of a blissful (or at least relatively harmonious!) collaboration are greatly improved.

Reference

Whitchurch, C. (2009). The rise of the blended professional in higher education: a comparison between the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Higher Education, 58(3), 407-418.

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