Collaboration in Action

A guest post about the Dartmouth Vietnam Project.

November 13, 2014

I’ve asked my colleague Ashley Kehoe to write a guest post about the Dartmouth Vietnam Project.  Ashley is an instructional designer, specializing in experiential and evidence-based learning.

There’s been a lot of talk recently in the teaching and learning community – even right here in this digital discussion space – about the pedagogical power of team teaching, co-teaching, and creating collaborative teaching and learning teams made up of subject matter, pedagogy, technology, media, research, and collection experts. But what does that really look like in practice? And, does it actually work?

I’ve had the opportunity to find out firsthand as a member of the Dartmouth Vietnam Project – a student-driven experiential learning program that connects current undergraduate student interviewers with members of the Dartmouth College community who are willing to share their memories and experiences of the Vietnam War and the “Vietnam Era.” There are already many stories to be told about this project – and you can read more about those here or here - but the story I want to tell is about collaborative teaching and learning, and why I think we should do more of it.

The goals of the Dartmouth Vietnam Project include 1) training undergraduate students on best practices in oral history and topics such as archival research; interviewing techniques; ethics of interviewing; equipment training; and interview design and preparation, 2) providing an opportunity for members of the Dartmouth community – defined broadly as current and former faculty, staff, administration, alumni, and local residents – to share their experiences with the Vietnam War, and 3) collectively producing a digital archive of oral histories that will be accessible and useful to students, teachers, researchers, and anyone else who is interested in the history of the Vietnam War.

Without the expertise of faculty, research librarians, archivists, digital media specialists, and instructional designers – achieving the wide-ranging goals of this program would not be possible. As an instructional designer, I know this. I know that when faculty bring other experts into their teaching, the impact is often profoundly positive, for students and members of the teaching team. Ideas and energy are generated that may not have been possible if the faculty member decided to go it alone, or had to go it alone due to lack of available resources and support staff at their institution. The Dartmouth Vietnam Project is evidence of the power of collaboration in action. As the project has evolved and the goals expanded, the team supporting the project has continued to grow. Currently, the project team consists of:

  • Prof. Edward Miller of the Dartmouth History Department, an expert in Vietnam War history and the instructor for HIST 26: The Vietnam War
  • Dr. Jennifer Miller of the Dartmouth History Department, an expert in Cold War history and the instructor for HIST 24: The Cold War and American Life
  • Peter Carini, Dartmouth College Archivist
  • Caitlin Birch, Digital Collections and Oral History Archivist
  • Joshua Shaw, Special Collections Technology Coordinator
  • Ashley Kehoe, Instructional Designer in Educational Technologies
  • Susan Simon, Media Learning Technologist, Jones Media Center
  • Fran Oscadal, Librarian and History Reference Bibliographer
  • John Cocklin, Librarian for Government Documents and Economic and Social Science Data

Every member of the team contributes a unique area of expertise, skillset, and knowledge of campus resources – each of which is making the project possible. As a member of this project team, I wanted to get a sense of whether or not the rest of the team felt the same as I do about our collaboration, so I asked them: “What role is collaboration playing on this project team?” The following are their responses:

Edward Miller, Associate Professor of History

“Collaboration is absolutely essential to the DVP.  There is no way that the project could ever have got off the ground if one or two faculty members were solely responsible for planning and implementing it.  From the outset, my colleague Jennifer Miller and I have had outstanding support from our Educational Technologies group, our college archivists, our librarians, and our IT staff.  All of these members of the DVP team have technical expertise that Jennie and I don't; they are also able to access and mobilize Dartmouth resources (both human resources and technological resources) that we did not know were available to us.  These non-faculty members of our team have all taken on leadership roles in various aspects of the project, from leading training workshops for students to designing the project website.  Its not just that we couldn't have done it without them, we wouldn't even have known how to do it without them.”

Jennifer Miller, Visiting Assistant Professor of History

“Collaboration has been absolutely fundamental to the development, implementation, and success of this project.  Everyone has brought in different skills—from the historical knowledge and student relationships that Ed and I have, to the research skills of the library staff, to Caitlin’s experience with Oral history.  Moreover, working with people from educational technology has made us aware of resources that we didn’t even know existed on campus.  There would simply be no way to do the project without all these different participants.”

Caitlin Birch, Digital Collections and Oral History Archivist

“Collaboration is critical to the project. It's such a multi-dimensional initiative, and it couldn't have been achieved by one person with one skill-set and one way of looking at things. Ed and Jennie have the subject and instructional expertise, Peter has the archival expertise, Fran and John have the research expertise, Ashley has the course design expertise, Susan has the media technology expertise, Joshua has the web technology expertise. It took all of us to make this project happen.”

Peter Carini, College Archivist

"I find that collaborative projects are both the most fulfilling to work on, and have the best outcomes. It takes many perspectives to create a cohesive project and the expertise never resides in one individual. Working on a team is always educational: you learn new things from your colleagues and about their expertise. This particular project has been especially interesting since it has involved working closely with students as well as faculty and staff.”

It’s refreshing to work on such an authentically collaborative project, where every member of the team is not only contributing something distinct and necessary for the success of the project as a whole – but is also aware of the value that others bring to the team. This is an example of the kind of teaching and learning that wouldn’t be possible with a traditional classroom model, where the faculty is the expert, the students are the learners, and the classroom is the place where the learning happens. Instead, we’re all co-educators and co-learners in this process – students, faculty, staff, and members of the Dartmouth community. We’re coming together to create something that hasn’t existed before, and to contribute new knowledge to a field of study while providing high-impact learning experiences to students. I hope this model will inspire more educators to think about teaching and learning as a collaborative process that extends beyond the walls of a classroom, the constraints of a term, or even the boundaries of campus.

It wouldn't be very collaborative of me if I didn't try to engage more voices in this conversation, so I'm curious, what are your thoughts on collaboration in teaching and learning? Are you seeing or involved in examples of collaborative teaching and learning on your campus? If so, how's it going? What's getting in the way of collaboration, and what needs to happen to change that?


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