Collaborative graduate education across multiple campuses

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Multi-institutional approaches to graduate education continue to emerge as a way to better prepare students for collaborative work. In this article, we describe a graduate course designed to investigate application of conservation biology principles by local land use planners. “Where is Conservation Science in Local Planning?” was offered jointly by three institutions and integrated inquiry-guided, collaborative, and computer-mediated learning. Participants collaborated across universities to investigate this question and create products based on their work, including a presentation and two peer-reviewed manuscripts. We used a wiki for brainstorming and collaborative writing, a virtual classroom for work meetings, and video conferencing for building community and making complex decisions. Pre- and post-course questionnaires were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the course for improving skills in collaboration, use of collaborative technologies, and subject-area knowledge. Student development mirrored those areas where learning was required to consistently support class-wide activities. Students reported that they gained knowledge about collaboration, increased their mastery of communication skills and use of collaborative technologies, and gained knowledge about course subject matter. Students did not indicate significant changes in knowledge or activities related to leadership. Participants gained a fuller understanding of the benefits—collective creativity and enhanced accountability—and drawbacks—time required to build relationships and engage in deliberation—of collaborative research. Faculty participants suggest that future offerings continue to follow an inquiry-guided, collaborative learning approach using similar collaborative technologies, but include more explicit guidance about leadership and attempt to generate a smaller number of products.

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