Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Mapping Disciplinary Differences and Equity of Academic Control to Create a Space for Collaboration

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Mapping Disciplinary Differences and Equity of Academic Control to Create a Space for Collaboration

Article excerpt

Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work is becoming an important part of academic life with a growing realization that the research questions addressed by academics and others are becoming more complex and technologically sophisticated, often requiring team approaches (Hara, Solomon, Kim, & Sonnenwald, 2003; Newell & Swan, 2000; Strober, 2010). Researchers are meeting the challenges posed by these types of research questions through collaboration, as evidenced by the growing number of multi-authored papers and presentations (Cronin, Shaw, & Barre, 2003; Leahey & Reikowsky, 2008; Qin, Lancaster, & Allen, 1997). Within this context, collaboration can be characterized in a variety of ways with different levels of contributions from involved researchers. At a minimum, researchers may exchange informal communication as they explore common research areas, often spanning a range of disciplines and content areas. Collaboration deepens when two or more individuals formally work together to accomplish joint objectives (Bruhn, 1995; Hara et al., 2003). As a result, the nature of the collaborations may range from relatively little task interdependence to a fully integrative process where researchers work closely together on all aspects of the project (Hara et al., 2003). Regardless of the amount of integration, many collaborations are able to achieve results of greater scope, quality, and depth than a single person could produce (Cech & Rubin, 2004; Kraut, Galegher, & Egido, 1987; Newell & Swan, 2000; Northcraft& Neale, 1993).

While researchers are collaborating more, this type of research environment is not one that all are accustomed to or trained for (Amabile et al., 2001; Bennett & Kidwell, 2001; Cuneo, 2003; Newell & Swan, 2000). As a result, teams may not understand the best ways in which to work together, creating difficulties for the collaboration. Thus Amabile et al. (2001) argue that it is necessary to understand the nature of collaboration within academic teams and determine the factors that contribute to its success while minimizing potential difficulties.

To this end, a number of academic research teams have reflected on their own experiences to better understand the factors that influence research team success (for example, see Bracken & Oughton, 2006; Garland, O'Connor, Wolfer, & Netting, 2006; Massey et al., 2006; McGinn, Shields, Manley-Casimir, Grundy, & Fenton, 2005). Further, several frameworks have been developed for exploring various aspects of a collaboration in order to develop tools and processes to support it (Kraut et al., 1987; Leahey & Reikowsky, 2008; Lowry, Curtis, & Lowry, 2004).

However, little work has been to done to understand the benefits and challenges associated with disciplinary differences and equity of academic control within projects in order to more fully support the various collaborative relationships and ensure their success (Newell & Swan, 2000). Differences in each, which are fundamental to the organization of disciplines and the university, create potential for miscommunication, conflict, and other negative consequences, which may mean that a collaboration is not successful (Choi & Pak, 2007). By contrast, when team members understand the differences between disciplines and the nature of academic control within a project, they can take proactive steps to ensure the collaboration is shaped in ways that will support their specific project's objectives (Bammer, 2008; Melin, 2000). This paper explores these two dimensions in order to suggest a framework for understanding their impact on a collaboration and explore the benefits and challenges associated with various positions within this understanding. It can become a starting point for discussion within academic research teams as they determine the nature of their collaboration and structure themselves accordingly.

The paper begins by outlining the background to this framework. …

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