A collaborative community of students and academics (Rachel Kahn)

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Collaborative; Produced by or involving two or more parties working together. Example, collaborative research.

Collaboration and being an interdisciplinary worker are key components of success in many areas. For academics, collaboration builds research consensus and combining different areas of specialism looks impressive to potential funding bodies. For students, collaboration, or, ‘team work’, is an essential skill learnt throughout a degree, forming the basis of many an interview answer. However, as of yet, the true potential of collaboration between academics and students at Universities do not quite overlap, and this is something that could hold great benefit in the future for learner and teacher.

Many a theory sets out to explain the best environment in which to learn. Unfortunately, none of these theories portray an image of student groups sitting in a lecture theatre soaking up information for 50 minutes. Now, I’m not saying the way we structure teaching is incorrect, in order to teach a course, vast content has to be portrayed in a short period of time. The motivated student will take the content and expand on it, an important aspect in a number of learning theories, but I wonder if we could start this process sooner, and create a collaborative curriculum, so students are active learners at University from the word go.

Jean Piaget put forward the constructivist theory of learning, stating that people learn by constructing their own ideas based on what they experience and reflecting on these experiences. When we encounter something new, we must relate it to wider context and knowledge elsewhere, and be given the opportunity to ask questions. This is an active form of learning and an area I think holds great potential to create increased collaboration within the undergraduate learning environment. Could we frame lectures so the first ten minutes involves foundation knowledge, and use the rest of the time to give this information a wider, more relatable context.

So, as a science student, could I learn about the four basic mechanisms in which a bacterial cell can evade the action of an antibiotic and spend the rest of my time questioning this, applying my other knowledge, and suggesting ways in which we may be able to bypass these evasion strategies. To give an example, bacterial cells essentially have hoovers on their surface. Using these hoovers, when bacteria are subject to an antibiotic they can essentially pump the drug outside of the cell. Now research has tried to block these ‘hoovers’ but, as an active learner, I don’t need to know this straight away. I need the time to question and suggest, to collaborate with my peers and my teacher and open up dialogue on the topic.

This collaboration would not only leave the student motivated to go away and find out more, but may even provide insight for the academic who may be handed questions they’ve not yet thought to answer.

Collaboration doesn’t have to just be in learning, the creative minds of students could aid academics in translating their research to the public, or the network students build up through internships and jobs could provide further external collaboration for a university. This would create an environment in which knowledge within a university flourishes, but in order to do this, students and academics need to know where to find each other, and we must encourage a collaborative University environment.

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