Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

An Ad-Hoc Collaborative Exercise between US and Australian Students Using ThinkTank: E-Graffiti or Meaningful Exchange?

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

An Ad-Hoc Collaborative Exercise between US and Australian Students Using ThinkTank: E-Graffiti or Meaningful Exchange?

Article excerpt


Traditional business models have typically built upon the idea of competition as a key strategy but increasingly the growth of global communication systems has led to a position where collaborative activities can also be seen as having a potential benefit for the parties involved. The availability of a growing range of collaborative tools within the Web 2.0 environment has led many large organisations to utilize global communication systems to build new alliances that help them to share ideas, skills and resources and create new market opportunities. Transparent supply chains allow both internal and external integration using shared data throughout the supply chain and offer opportunities for improved flow of materials, improved stock management, enhanced decision support and so on.

What is emerging is a dynamic business environment in which the various players can act in ways that involve them both collaborating and competing at various times with other players in their field, an idea characterised by Ray Noorda, founder of Novell, as 'co-opetition'. Gnyawali and Park (2009) describe co-opetition as the simultaneous cooperation and competition between firms and report that learning to work with rivals is becoming increasingly important to realize new business opportunities.

Collaboration, however, is not an easy task and can potentially produce disruptive effects both within and between organizations. Within an organization collaboration may mean that more individuals within the organization need to be drawn into discussion and decision making and this may start to challenge power structures. Between organizations the need to make previously hidden data available to a wider range of organizations that may once have been direct competitors clearly poses risk and trust becomes a highly significant issue. Equally, ensuring that multiple information systems, possibly using different architectures, can be aligned and support secure data flow between systems becomes a significant concern. In the case of global collaboration, differences in human language and culture begin to take an increasingly important role as various communication channels, from email to video conferencing, are introduced to support collaborative ventures. All of these issues provide both opportunities and threats for organizations and for individuals.

Within the classroom opportunities for collaboration and competition also exist. For many student groups there is a tension between the recognition that fellow group members are extra resources and the lack of individual control over the final outcome of group projects. Many students are highly competitive and for them groupwork can be seen as a threat to their final grades if they are in a dysfunctional group. In courses where many nationalities are represented cultural differences, particularly in the collectivism versus individualism dimension, can further exacerbate these tensions.

The Australian Course

Co-opetition is thus an important area for consideration in both education and business. For students it is doubly significant given their wish to successfully complete group-based course assessments combined with their aspiration to gain employment in a world that is itself grappling with emerging views of competition and collaboration. Students need to be provided with tools to help them monitor and reflect upon their progress in authentic educational group projects and to understand the technical, organizational and human aspects of the broader business community that they will join. It is against this background that a masters course originally titled 'Collaboration and E Commerce' was developed at the University of South Australia (UniSA) some years ago (Banks, 2003). The course was later re-named 'Collaborative Information Systems' in an effort to clarify the expectations of those students who incorrectly perceived this as a web development course. …

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