Courtney Pham is a Senior Instructor in the College of Business at Missouri State University
It took me a while to realize how fostering collaboration with my colleagues could lead to better outcomes for both instructors and students. For a long time, I assumed that an individualistic mindset was the best path to success. But, after collaborating with my colleagues during COVID-19, I realized how much collaboration could transform my class for the better.
I want to examine my path to learning the importance of collaboration, and how collaboration played a role in course development during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My Road to Fostering Collaboration
Before entering academia, I had a career in sales and marketing. I was conditioned to pursue a Western, individualistic mentality and always wanted to be on top. After all, this mentality helped me overcome the tremendous hardship brought on by the Vietnam War and its aftermath. However, this same mindset also brought me a great amount of exhaustion and stress. I felt like I was fighting a battle by myself, day in and day out.
My “aha!” moment came at a coaching session when I reconnected with my Eastern roots and studied Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” Throughout the reading, I realized my aggressive approach was all wrong. Competitiveness alone was not enough to drive success. Instead, I needed to work with others and make the best of our situation together.
Collaborating for Camaraderie During COVID-19
Fast forward to my current career in academia, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. My university decided to pivot to fully online classes and my fellow instructors and I were given one extra week of spring break to make it happen. Many of us were reaching out to one another, soliciting advice and best practices for this unprecedented scenario.
Some faculty members met over the phone to learn how to use Zoom for the first time. Others met over Zoom to share best practices for repurposing their teaching toolboxes online. Most of us collaborated on the most pressing problem—how to address academic integrity with online testing.
Throughout these discussions, we learned how to tailor our own strategies based on ideas from one another. We were all happy to share our successful methods, and I learned new skills to smoothly transition from in-person to online classes. We even discussed out-of-classroom activities to keep us sane while staying home. This collaborative experience fueled innovation and empowered us to be more effective instructors.
Leaving Comfort Zones Behind
As instructors, we don’t often reach out and share ideas. This is because we assume that we have optimized our course based on our teaching style. We often re-use exams, presentations and rubrics without many modifications. But by doing this, we trap ourselves in our comfort zones.
When instructors hide within our comfort zones, we lose motivation and focus on our students. For instance, I used to leverage pre-recorded lectures for textbooks that were two editions old, and didn’t update my discussion topics to reflect current events. I was suffering from a high level of complacency.
After emailing with my colleagues, I learned how some of them put their hearts and souls into creating their courses. One colleague linked helpful websites about mental health to support students during the pandemic. Another colleague had a more flexible testing policy to accommodate for slow internet speeds. Others shared how they enriched their courses by perusing resources within their digital learning platforms.
Because I collaborated with my colleagues, I re-recorded lectures to align with my current textbook edition and revamped my syllabus with new flex policies and a weekly roadmap. I also integrated new discussion board prompts to tie in with current events and hosted extra credit Zoom sessions to connect with my students.
Fostering collaboration helped my colleagues and I draw upon each other’s expertise to the benefit of our students. Now, I can clearly see the benefits of collaboration and embrace new ideas from different sources to help drive my students’ success. That’s a competitive advantage in my book.
Fostering Collaboration for a Better Future
The collaborative efforts of my colleagues and I brought in positive feedback from our students and increased enrollment in our department. If instructors continue to focus on sharing our strengths, collaborating on best practices and communicating our expectations with students and each other, we will be rewarded with more engaged students. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.
For more information on building a successful course through collaboration, check out the Cultivating Cultures of Connection in Higher Education webinar.