As some of you may know, I started my career in learning as a technical communicator/trainer. Throughout the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to wear many hats, including: technical communications student, technical communicator, instructor, and hiring manager. So, when it came time to select a population to study, for my MEd, it seemed like a natural choice.
Likewise, my work as a sessional professor and learning consultant between 2008-2010 is what really influenced the topic of my research, which focused on collaboration and collaborative technologies. Some of you may remember that during this time-period, Google had recently launched Blogger and Google Docs, multiple free wiki-platforms had become available to higher educational institutions, and the adoption of Skype and smartphones was increasing rapidly. Oh, and let’s not forget, Twitter was just starting to really take off. It was a great time to be teaching because the opportunities to pilot (test and learn) how digital collaboration could and would impact curricula and workplace readiness felt limitless.
Bringing these two interests together inspired me to focus my research on how technical communication managers and students defined collaboration and the role collaborative technologies played in helping or hindering teamwork and collaboration in the workplace.
I posed two questions:
- How do managers of technical communicators, and technical communications students define collaboration?
- What role, if any, do collaborative Web 2.0 technologies, (such as wikis, instant messaging and Google Docs) play in helping or hindering teamwork and collaboration in the workplace?
My methodology involved surveying technical communication students and active managers using the Employability Skills 2000+ (The Conference Board of Canada, 2000) definition of teamwork skills (“the skills and attributes needed to contribute productively”) as part of the framework. The teamwork skills’ attributes I selected for the survey were:
- Team dynamics
- Leading and supporting.
Without spending the next five pages discussing findings, I’ve opted to share the following excerpt from my conclusion (you can also find a link to my research in its entirety at the end of this post):
…it appears that while Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, instant messaging and online collaborative work tools do not hinder collaboration, and that technical communicators are not lacking in their skill using these tools, without the core attributes of teamwork skills, student use of collaborative technologies is secondary.(Slawski,(2012)
Back to the Future
The reason why I’m revisiting this theme of ‘classroom-to-workplace’ is, from the perspective of someone who leads a learning team focused on supporting the learning and development of new graduates, and experienced managers, the need to develop critical workplace competencies independent of platforms and tools is still very relevant.
While the competencies noted as critical in 2000 by The Conference Board of Canada require a refresh, there is no shortage of recent thinking related to critical workplace competencies (Harold Jarche has shared those from Future Work Skills 2020 ).
The discussion and focus around how to build and foster competencies to support those needed in the new workplace is still one that needs focus from a learning and an enterprise talent development perspective. I know that I’ve been guilty of forgetting or conveniently ignoring this in my own practice because it’s not an easy fix and it requires us to look at the employee and the needs of the enterprise from a much more critical and complex lens. There is a lot of upside, however, to getting this right for learning, the employee and the organization. Instead of trying to reword what is already well articulated by Harold Jarche’s blog post It’s not a Skills Gap, I will instead wrap up with this quote:
Neither is a lack of tools the core issue in organizational performance. Many organizations have more tools than they need. I worked with a company that had several hundred software platforms and programs at its disposal. It still had issues around sharing knowledge, managing institutional memory, and collaborating across departments.
Tools and skills are easy-to-fill buckets, but meta-competencies of learning to learn and working in digital networks take significant time, effort, and support to fill. A long-term strategy to support these meta-competencies is lacking in many organizations today. (Jarche, 2016)
Conference Board of Canada (2000) Employability Skills 2000+. Retrieved from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/EDUC_PUBLIC/esp2000.sflb
Jarche, Harold. It’s not a skills gap. (https://jarche.com/2016/11/its-not-a-skills-gap/
Slawski, Nancy. (2012). Classroom to Workplace MEd Thesis by Nancy Slawski (MEd. Thesis)