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Collaborating with Integrity

Laurier is a community of scholars engaged in research, teaching and learning. Our academic work is about creating and sharing knowledge in all kinds of ways: we may be conducting research, presenting at a conference, participating in a panel, or publishing a paper. Even in the classroom, as students, we are creating and sharing knowledge when we participate in class discussion, deliver a presentation, or hand in a paper. There is a collaborative dimension to all our academic work.

Constructive Collaboration

Collaboration in academic work can take many forms. We may be working on a group project or a co-authored paper or presentation. We may also be preparing for a test or working on a paper that we will write individually. Even in these contexts of individual work, academics rarely work in complete isolation. Scholars at all levels often talk with others about the things they’re working on. It’s important to know how to collaborate constructively and avoid collusion, which is a type of academic misconduct.

How Can I Put This to Practice?

When we talk and work with others, we want to ensure that we are acting in honest, responsible, and fair ways. Let’s look at some examples of constructive collaboration and the skills involved:

Participating in Class Discussion

Joining the conversation in class is one of the most straightforward ways to collaborate in knowledge building and sharing. Classrooms are communities of inquiry (citation here). We may have ideas to share or want to express agreement or disagreement with another person’s point. To be constructively collaborative (even when disagreeing), it’s important to acknowledge others in respectful ways. Approaches like these can make participation a more positive experience for everyone:

  • "I’m not sure I’ve fully understood your point. Could you please explain it a little more?"
  • "I see a connection with what you were just saying and this real world example I’ve been thinking about..."
  • "I’m not sure that I agree with that. I think it’s important to consider..."

Remember, your professors want you to engage in critical thinking. You don’t have to accept anything at face value, but you should give ideas careful consideration and, if you disagree, be able to explain why with reasoned analysis.

Posting on a Discussion Board

Posting on a course discussion board is another form of participation in class discussion. We are being encouraged to share our thoughts and engage with one another in writing. Approach posting and responding with the same consideration for respectful engagement that you would in-person: while it’s conversational, it’s still academic.

For some helpful suggestions, check out this blog post on “How to Succeed in Online Discussions.

Working on a Group Project

Group work is a fantastic opportunity to continue to build your communication and teamwork skills, which are great transferable skills for a wide variety of jobs. Employers expect that we will be able to delegate and share work to accomplish goals and objectives.

One of the best ways that we can support constructive collaboration during group work is to engage in some preparatory discussions. When meeting for the first time (in-person or online either synchronously or asynchronously), come to a group decision about several things:

  • The common goal for the group project.
  • The approach for idea-sharing (e.g., everyone comes up with two ideas or group brainstorming).
  • The approach for decision-making (e.g., voting or by consensus).
  • Timelines for the stages of the project.
  • Delegation of tasks (keeping in mind that everyone should be at least somewhat involved in every stage).
  • Expectations for citations (e.g., APA, or MLA).

When everyone is on the same page in terms of expectations, group work can support improved learning and critical thinking – worthy competencies for sure!

Studying with a Group for a Test

Studying with a friend or a group of classmates can be a great strategy to prepare for an upcoming test or exam. But to make group study time most effective, it’s important that everyone comes to the meeting prepared. This means spending some time engaging in individual studying and review.

It’s easier to have a conversation about the subject matter or to answer one another’s questions about course content when everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the material. Helping each other improve understanding is constructive collaboration in action!

Here are some group study strategies that you can try:

  • As a group, think through the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy to engage in deeper learning of the material. Here’s an example:
    • Remember: what is the definition of the concept in the course material?
    • Understand: what does that mean in our own words?
    • Apply: can we come up with an example of this concept or an example of when to use the concept in a situation?
    • Analyze: how do the parts contribute to the meaning? Or why is this concept important?
    • Evaluate: how is the concept similar or different to other concepts?
    • Create: what argument would we make about this concept?
  • Delegate different sections of the textbook or weekly topics to the group members so that each person can come up with practice test questions (keep in mind the levels of Bloom’s!). When you pool the questions, you create an original practice test for the group to use as a preparation tool.
  • Focus on talking through the material so people feel like they have a good understanding. Group study is not about anyone giving other people the answer.

Working on an Individual Assignment

A lot of the work that we do involves tasks that we’re expected to complete independently. This means that no one else should be involved in helping us craft an answer or suggesting what we should say. If you’re using other people’s ideas or words, that is plagiarism.

However, talking about what you’re working on and learning can help you think through what you want to communicate and organize your ideas.

There are many constructive ways to get feedback on your work that can be very helpful:

  • Visit your professor during office hours or make an appointment to meet with them. They’ll be the best source of information for you in terms of your assignment.
  • Talk to a librarian about what you’re working on if you need to find good, reliable sources of information. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
  • Make an appointment for writing feedback. The writing professionals and student tutors/mentors in Student Success can give you insight into the experience of a general academic reader with your text. They can also help answer any questions you may have about writing.

Avoiding Collusion

Collusion is when people work together in an unauthorized way to gain an advantage. If you are tasked with doing an assignment independently, then it is inappropriate to have someone else work on that assignment with or for you – it’s no longer constructive collaboration; it becomes collusion.

To ensure that you are always collaborating constructively consider the principles of honesty, responsibility, and fairness. If your professor found out about your communication with others, ask yourself would your actions hold up to those principles. If so, you’re golden!