Developing healthy collaborative relationships: Why and how

collaborationCollaborative writing relationships can be advantageous to all involved when designed for success, but without self-awareness and clear communication, these relationships can set projects on a path of failure. In academia, opportunities exist for both student-to-student collaboration as well as collaboration between students and professors.

During their 2019 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference session, Laura Jacobi, Justin Rudnick, Alyssa Harter, and Cristy Dougherty shared some strategies for successful professor-student collaborations. These strategies include reflective practices and effective communication guidelines as summarized below.

Why collaborate with students?

In a culture of “publish or perish”, professors can gain traction on their own writing and research agenda through collaboration with students. A “divide & conquer” approach to writing with others can help meet deadlines for submission and allow for the completion of more projects than can be done as an individual, but collaboration is not without its own challenges and requirements for success.

In the case of working with students as collaborators, the presenters caution faculty members to “be aware of the power dynamics”. Whereas a professor is often in the role of a supervisor, a collaborative relationship should be one of mentorship and guidance instead of directive instruction. As such, the presenters advise being “flexible in your approach” and “open to different thoughts, voices, and unexpected conclusions”.

Reflect first

For greatest success, plan ahead. By addressing potential concerns, individual needs, and overall expectations ahead of time, you can prevent many common problems during the collaborative writing process. The presenters suggest that you “have a ‘pre-writing’ conversation in which you determine if writing collaboratively is a good idea and, if so, how you would collaborate before starting.”

The goal of the conversation should be to “craft expectations of the collaborative relationship that allow all parties to gain from the experience”. During this conversation you should identify the goals faculty have for the student(s), goals faculty have for themselves, and goals students have for themselves.

Set boundaries

After setting goals, the presenters advise that you “set boundaries that fit the collaborators” and “stick to them.” These boundaries may define both formal and informal roles, a timeline for the project, physical spaces for collaborative time, personal spaces for non-collaborative time, and the best channel and frequency of communication. In the end, you should feel confident that everyone is on the same page regarding goals, expectations, and authorship.

Communicate effectively

From start to finish, the success of a collaborative relationship relies on effective communication. According to the presenters, “communication is paramount for building a collaborative relationship”. As a guide, they offer the following tips for effective communication in collaborative settings:

  • Be open about what you are/aren’t comfortable with
  • Don’t feel bad for not communicating when you need a break or decide to take the day off
  • Find your personal rhythm and purpose within the study
  • Seek additional help/advice outside of your collaborative partner(s)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or direction from your collaborative partner(s)

Collaborative relationships offer great opportunity for all collaborators to meet their personal goals while helping their partner(s) do the same. Healthy collaborative relationships offer an environment of accountability and performance but are reliant on self-awareness and clear communication.

When considering a potential collaboration, take the time to identify goals, roles, and expectations in advance. Then, communicate clearly throughout the process to maintain adherence to those guidelines.

The entire session recording is available in TAA’s Presentations on Demand library.


Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.