Respectful Collaboration: Teaching Collaborative Skills to FirstYear Students BEFORE They Form Their Discipline Identities

Presented by: Jacob Tucci, Carol Hermann, and Greg Lucado

“We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn't an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness, it's a liberation from our misconceptions.” — Kirby Ferguson
The purpose of this study was to research and develop a new common core experience for interdisciplinary collaboration within a multidisciplinary architectural college, composed of Architecture, Architectural Studies, Construction Management, Interior Design and Landscape Architecture. Better, earlier, more frequent cross-disciplinary interaction between students and faculty will develop awareness of the real world relationships between allied disciplines, and advance curricular content, encourage active classroom practices, and create better awareness of a student’s chosen profession and respect for other’s chosen disciplines. Currently Construction Management sits to the side of the other disciplines, yet in many ways it is the one that all other disciplines must interact with. This study researches best practices for both the method of interaction and the time in a student’s learning process for collaboration. Relevant priorities include student and faculty engagement and collaboration, and integrative projects grounded in real world scenarios.
The Questions that were asked: How are other universities approaching cross-disciplinary collaboration in first year courses? How does student disciplinary expertise affect their ability to collaborate? What specific content should be included in the course? How can we best instill mutual appreciation for the project contribution of each professional discipline?
The research consisted of several levels of investigation: precedent studies of other colleges, analyzing and categorizing our college’s learning outcomes, interviewing faculty across many disciplines (including the liberal arts and non-built environment design disciplines) and facilitating two charettes. The charettes conducted with first-year students from various disciplines were designed to help determine when and how to integrate fully cross-disciplinary awareness and respect. The project-based charettes were designed to NOT rely on specific disciplinary roles or skills and allow the students to negotiate their roles in the group.  Pre and Post surveys were given for each charette. The two charettes varied in the number of participants, project topics and types of incentives (one with paid volunteers, one within the context of a required course).
The study produced evidence in favor of incorporating cross-disciplinary collaborative learning in the first year. Questions asked both before and after the charettes showed a statistically significant change in seven of the measured responses: Stronger agreement that multidisciplinary teams produce better results; Stronger agreement that extroverts perform better in teams; Stronger agreement of valuing the contribution of those with whom they collaborate; Stronger agreement that they can see things from the perspective of those who are different than themselves; Stronger agreement that they work well in teams; Weaker agreement that they work better alone; and Stronger agreement that they spend more time talking than listening when working in a group. Observations include: first year students are capable of learning to collaborate with other allied disciplines before they have gained their individual discipline skills and knowledge set; it is best practice to establish and communicate to the students that the primary learning objective is successful collaboration rather than a good product; and even though the survey was intended for research purposes, the pre and post survey encouraged the students to reflect on their role on the team and how they grew from the experience. As a result of the study: seminars have been added to freshman curricula that include professionals from the field discussing their profession and how they interact with their allied colleagues.


  • Poggenpohl, Sharon  and Sato, Keiichi. (2009). Design Integrations: Research and Collaboration. Chicago: Intellect, The University of Chicago Press.


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