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Are colleges preparing students for teamwork and collaboration?

by | Sep 8, 2015 | Daily Life

An interesting study shows that the idea of college being a place to broaden horizons may not be as correct as we always assumed.

As a graduate of the University of Missouri I am required by state law to have contempt and utter disregard for the University of Kansas…I believe it is even a constitutional amendment, maybe a Civil War relic of lawmaker discretion, and even something we are born with.

Have no fear, though. This article is actually not about basketball, rivalry, or war. I mention the above to show that even with a genetic and legal predisposition towards blood-curdling, venomous dislike for my westerly collegiate foe, I am above all a man of discovery, enlightenment, and open-mindedness (in non-sports matters). And because of that I am going to discuss a very interesting and thought-provoking study conducted in part by researchers at the…gulp…University of Kansas.

In settings with fewer available people to choose from, people make do with the raw material available to them.Bahns, et al.
The study, authored by Angela J. Bahns, Kate M. Pickett, and Christian S. Crandall, aimed to see if a larger pool of people with whom to interact with would lead to people having more diverse relationships than those in a place with a relatively small pool of people to choose from. The researchers used the KU campus in Lawrence as the “large pool” and some smaller, rural colleges as examples of “small pools” of people with whom to interact.

The common thinking would be that with a large, diverse pool of people with all kinds of different backgrounds, ideologies, beliefs, and viewpoints, individuals would create a diverse group of relationships. While at the same time, the small schools would yield much less personal diversity. However, their findings were quite surprising, and quite the opposite of the common thinking.

Key findings

  • The study showed that the large campus had a greater number of people from which students could more easily seek out people similar to them. And they did just that.
  • At the smaller schools, the students’ ability to seek out similar people was more limited, thus “forcing” them somewhat to interact with people that may be different from them in values, backgrounds, etc. From the study: “In settings with fewer available people to choose from, people make do with the raw material available to them.”
  • There seemed to be indication that not only were the relationships at the smaller schools more diverse, but also they tended to be more stable and lasting. This may also be a result of the smaller amount of choices for relationships in the smaller settings.

Here is a link to the full study 

Implications

  • We have always been told that a major component of the “college experience” is the interaction with people different than us, and the introduction of their viewpoints and beliefs into our thinking, thus making us more well-rounded for the future. This study shows that we may in fact be using college as a means to increase our network of “people who look, think and act like me” and not making those connections that will challenge us and make us better.
  • When these graduates go into the workforce, they will inevitably be put into situations where they will need to show teamwork and collaboration skills with people not like them. Will they be prepared for that? I am having my doubts.
  • One of my core beliefs is that to improve as companies, governments, and societies as a whole, we all need to practice more empathy in our everyday lives. Thinking about things from other’s points of view, looking at issues as they affect them, and trying to find fair and equitable solutions to problems is the only way we will survive and thrive. If our institutions of higher learning are not fostering interactions among diverse groups, then there will continue to be an empathy shortage in the future.

Conclusion

Like many things we deal with in the world, the solutions to this problem are not readily apparent, though I suspect it will need to involve fostering a culture of curiosity for diverse cultures and possibly the “forcing” of diverse relationships upon students much earlier than their entrance into college. Class structures, teamwork and collaboration environments, and distance learning technologies will prove crucial in making this happen.

As for myself, I may be long from the college experience, but I plan to increase my diversity of relationships.  Maybe even make nice with a Kansas Jayhawk or something. That is until our teams meet again in a couple of weeks, then it is back to venom and talk of war.

Hey just because I write about these things, doesn’t mean I have to do them too, right?

Robert Westfall

Robert is a writer, behavorial researcher and decision-making consultant. He is the founder of Instinct, a firm specializing in helping organizations be more human focused and planet conscious.  You can learn more about his work at www.TheHumanInstinct.com and follow him at twitter.com/WeAreInstinct

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