Learning to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams: A study of student perspectives from a mandatory master’s course at a Norwegian University.

Year: 2021

Author: Spjelkevik, Maiken, Johnsen, Mette Mari Wold, Sjolie, Ela

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Teaching students to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams is a challenge facing universities worldwide. Therefore, there is a need for research on how students' learning of such collaboration unfolds. The study presented explored this from a student perspective in a mandatory 7,5 ects masters course taught online at a Norwegian University in the Spring of 2021. The course was innovative in its design as interdisciplinary collaboration was the main learning objective, and 3000 students from seven academic disciplines collaborated in project-based teams. The students were organized in 600 teams in 100 classes with a teacher and a learning assistant facilitating exercises helping the teams develop and complete an open-ended project task. Exercises included giving and receiving feedback and reflecting on situations from their project work. At the end of the semester, the team received a grade based on a project report and a team process report.  The course methodology was developed over 20 years and based on Kolb´s experiential learning cycle [1] as well as elements of collaborative learning (CL) e.g. positive interdependence and group processing [2]. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) provided useful perspectives on this year's course, as all interaction was online [3]. The importance of facilitating and supporting students in CL and CSCL is highlighted in the literature, but often overlooked when implementing efforts [4]. This study contributes to the existing literature by investigating a context where interdisciplinary collaboration is deliberately implemented as both a mean and a learning objective[5]. Through exploring the students' perspectives on learning to collaborate in this context, our findings may inform teachers and researchers looking to develop similar methods, courses and/or studies. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected using a self-report survey instrument (n=3000), personal and group interviews (n=20, 4), and video recordings of teams collaborating online (n=6). Results suggest students from all disciplines learned interdisciplinary collaboration in the master's course, and that their team was important in this learning. Findings show the students' perspectives on learning to collaborate differed, and therefore are presented in three categories: The online context, the interdisciplinary team and interpersonal perspectives. Even though students' collaboration was mediated by technology, students emphasize the interpersonal perspectives in the interviews. The exercises on feedback and reflection were also mentioned by a majority of the students, yet few mentioned the teacher or learning assistants. Implications for future methods, course design and research will be discussed.References:1.         Stice, J.E., Using Kolb's Learning Cycle to Improve Student Learning. Engineering education, 1987. 77(5): p. 291-96.2.         Johnson, D.W. and R.T. Johnson, Cooperative learning in 21st century. Anales de Psicología, 2014. 30(3): p. 841-851.3.         Stahl, G., T.D. Koschmann, and D.D. Suthers, Computer-supported collaborative learning. 2006: na.4.         Häkkinen, P., et al., Preparing teacher-students for twenty-first-century learning practices (PREP 21): a framework for enhancing collaborative problem-solving and strategic learning skills. Teachers and Teaching, 2017. 23(1): p. 25-41.5.         Hammar Chiriac, E., Group work as an incentive for learning–students’ experiences of group work. Frontiers in psychology, 2014. 5: p. 558.