2021 CoNECD

Sustaining Faculty Collaboration: An Exploratory Process-Based Study of Research Collaboration Across Universities

Presented at CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 4 Technical Session 2

A unique seed funding program has been deployed at a major research institute at a large land-grant university. The program aims to build direct faculty-to-faculty research partnerships between faculty at a predominantly white institution (PWI) and faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). Funds are awarded based on a peer review conducted by faculty with a vested interest in growing HBCU/MSI research partnerships. The proposal review criteria are adapted from NSF and include evaluation of intellectual merit and broader impacts of the proposed work. The proposal writers are expected to: (i) clearly identify their partnership with an HBCU/MSI, (ii) describe plans for next steps such as joint proposals or joint publications, (iii) discuss the degree that proposed research can affect a significant population, and (iv) describe sustainability of collaboration beyond one year. Funds may be used for shared lab equipment and space, shared technologies, or traveling to develop partnerships. Within the last three years, 23 HBCUs/MSIs have been engaged in the program. The ultimate goal of the program is to develop robust partnership.

Scholars have placed emphasis on the collaborative work among faculty. Professional development and faculty growth (Austin and Baldwin, 1991; Clark, et al. 1996), developing the links and social capital (Bozeman, et al. 2013), learning and innovations (Creamer, 2004), and publications and knowledge production (Austin and Baldwin, 1991; Bozeman, et al. 2013) are among some of the major benefits of research collaboration that have been portrayed within the literature. It should also be noted that some increasing specialization, creation of new subfields, and increasing need for productivity and accountability are among external factors that encourage research collaboration among faculty (Baldwin and Austin, 1995; Younglove-Webb, et al. 1999). Some scholars assert the importance of the quality of relationships among collaborators. Kraut, et al. (1987) described personal relationship as the glue that holds the constituents of a collaborative endeavor together. However, there has been a gap in the literature with respect to the process of collaboration. In a critical review of the literature on research collaboration at university---individual-level---, Bozeman, et al. (2013) argued that there is underrepresentation of studies examining the dynamics of relationships between researchers. When it comes to collaboration across the institutions, the situation is even less encouraging. Overall, there has been very little research on collaboration across institutions (Duffield, et al. 2013). In general, higher education institutions are not designed and structured to collaborate due to differences in their identities and missions (Duffield, et al. 2013). In particular contemporary research indicates the relative ease and preponderance of intra-institutional collaborations as compared with the difficulty and rarity of inter-institutional collaborations, such as between HBCUs/MSIs and PWIs. Moreover, inter-institutional collaborations among PWIs, research intensive institutions appear far more well supported and likely than between HBCUs/MSIs and PWIs. There is no doubt that factors such as power differentials and race play a role in the dynamics of collaborations. Hardy and Phillips (1998) argued that researchers in interorganizational domain should be careful not to adopt the position of powerful stakeholder when they judge about the success of collaboration. There is a concern that a given situation gets represented as “normal”.

Within engineering education, while there have been some studies on research collaboration, the quality of relationships has often been underemphasized. Borrego and Newswander (2008), for example, interviewed 24 co-authors from cross-disciplinary teams to better understand cross-disciplinary collaboration in engineering education research. The authors defined successful engineering education collaboration as those resulting in publication in Journal of Engineering Education.

What if we move beyond this product-oriented picture? What if we get to the dynamics of inter-personal relationships to better understand the quality of collaboration? Rather than focusing on functional aspects and emphasis on the outcomes of the collaborative activities such as presupposed objectives, often defined without paying appropriate attention to the nature and process of collaboration, this study focuses on the process-oriented illustration of collaboration and explores the nature/quality of the research collaborations, as a result of the seed funding program, in particular by focusing on broad questions about the sustainability of research collaboration. In this study, we distinguish between conventional outcome and holistic outcome, based on which research proposals or publications are considered as conventional outcome or indicator of conventional success, and quality of collaboration and in particular relationships between individuals as holistic outcome or indicator of holistic success. The purpose of this project is to gain a better understanding of the nature of collaboration to not only capture and present the participants’ voices but also connect thought and praxis in ways that can transform the status quo.

This paper aims to catalyze attention to the subject of process-based collaboration and shed light on theories, frameworks, and “thinking tools” that can resolve some of the complexities embedded in engaging in such studies. We elaborate on theoretical aspects of collaboration and briefly review the plan for a process-based study of research collaboration in the context of the seed funding program. In this paper, we first review the literature within engineering education and highlight the limitations. Second, we expand on the concept of the process of (research) collaboration and its importance informed by the literature. Then, we explore different views towards the role of theory in studying research collaboration. Finally, we briefly review the research design and address the major propositions that may provide an account and explain different factors that influence the sustainability of research collaboration.

Austin, A.E. and Baldwin, R.G. (1991). Faculty collaboration: Enhancing the quality of Scholarship and Teaching, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, No. 7, Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
Baldwin, R.G. and Austin, A.E. (1995). Toward greater understanding of faculty research collaboration, The Review of Higher Education, 19, 2, 45-70.
Borrego, M. and Newswander, L.K. (2008). Characteristics of successful cross-disciplinary engineering education collaborations, Journal of Engineering Education, 97, 2, 123-134.
Bozeman, B., Fay, D., and Slade, C.P. (2013). “Research collaboration in universities and academic entrepreneurship: the-state-of-the-art,” Journal of Technology Transfer, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 1-67.
Clark, C., Moss, P.A., Goering, S., Herter, R.J., Lamar, B., Leonard, D., Robbins, S., Russel, M., Templin, M., and Wascha, K. (1996). Collaboration as dialogue: Teachers and researchers engaged in conversation and professional development, American Educational Research Journal, 33, 1, 193-231.
Creamer, E.G. (2004). Assessing outcomes of long-term research collaboration, The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, XXXIV, 1, 27-46.
Duffield, S., Olson, A., Kerzman, R. (2013). Crossing borders, breaking boundaries: Collaboration among higher education institutions, Innovative Higher Education, 38, 3, 237-250.
Hardy, C. and Phillips, N. (1998). Strategies of engagement: Lessons from critical examination of collaboration and conflict in an interorganizational domain, Organization Science, 9, 2, 217-230.
Kraut, R.E. Galegher, J. and Egido, C. (1987). “Relationships and tasks in scientific research collaboration,” Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 31-58.
Younglove-Webb, J. Gray, B., Abdalla, C. W., and Thurow, A.P. (1999). The dynamics of multidisciplinary research teams in academia, 22, 4, 425-440.

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  • Broadening Participation in Engineering and Engineering Technology
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