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Collaborative Learning

WISR actively encourages and facilitates cooperation between students.  Indeed, two or more students may enroll together with the intent of pursuing their degrees collaborative–in total, or in part.

At WISR, faculty actively encourage collaboration between students, in several ways:
1. Faculty inform students when their interests may overlap with the interests of other current students, and alumni, as well. If the student expresses the desire to follow up, faculty will facilitate students contacting one another.

2. If two, or more, students wish to collaborate in working on a course, independent study project, or even a thesis–discussing readings, and sharing research and writing responsibilities on the culminating paper or thesis, this is very permissible, and even enthusiastically encouraged. Recently, two MFT students who got to know each other through the MFT seminars early in their studies at WISR, ended up doing over half of their MFT studies, including the MA thesis, as collaborative projects. They feel that they learned more this way, were able to support one another, and better sustain their momentum through the program by working together. Indeed, faculty believed that this also contributed to the especially outstanding research, reading and papers that the two students completed during their studies.

WISR’s only requirement for collaborating students is that each one writes their own “end of project” course syllabus form, and that they also write a paragraph or two on their separate and particular, individual contributions to the collaboration.  Each student must of course do the quality and quantity of work expected for that course or thesis, and for to earn the number of semester units of credit granted.  It is our experience that collaborating students almost always learn more, do more and are more deeply engaged than if they had studied by themselves.

3. In one instance, over five years ago, two students enrolled in the Doctoral program together with the intention of doing their entire program of studies together, which they subsequently completed with a high degree of satisfaction and outstanding results. The two students had known each other, and collaborated, for over 10 years prior to enrolling at WISR. Their studies centered around their involvement with and commitment to the preservation, documentation and dissemination of the Omaha cultural history. Most of their pre-dissertation projects, as well as their outstanding dissertation, will eventually be published. Some of their accomplishments are already being used in educational innovations and community development initiatives in and near the Omaha reservation in Nebraska. One of the colleagues is an Omaha man, who founded the Omaha Tribal Historical Research Project (OTHRP), which is designated by the tribe as the cultural authority of the Omaha people. The other colleague is a European American woman, with strong previous experience in expertise and art and writing, and with a history of having insightfully and respectfully learned about the ways of the Omaha and their history. They combined their special expertise in ways that truly resulted in the “whole being greater than the sum of its parts.” In this case, the students were from very different cultural backgrounds and even had different (but occasionally overlapping) interests. At WISR’s recent 40th Anniversary Celebration, Margery Coffey gave a testimonial on how WISR’s encouragement of this sort of collaboration enabled Dennis Hastings and herself to not only obtain their doctoral degrees, but also to make important contributions to the Omaha people, their communities and the preservation of Omaha culture.  They have asked us to share Margery’s presentation.

For interested students, WISR faculty are currently conducting at least one seminar, as a group coaching session, each month—where students can come together with one or two faculty, to discuss their learning process, accomplishment and challenges, in order to get support and guidance from other students and faculty. These group learning and coaching sessions are available on-site and simultaneously by video conference and telephone conference call to students in all geographic areas. 

Nasira Abdul-Aleem, WISR MFT student (R) and WISR Board and faculty member, Vera Labat (L)

Nasira Abdul-Aleem, WISR MFT student (R) and WISR Board and faculty member, Vera Labat (L)

These group collaborations and coaching sessions will be in addition to, not instead of the personalized advising sessions with faculty. It is anticipated that this will provide yet a further dimension to the support for student learning at WISR, and that it may also result in more students discovering ways to collaborate with one another on their WISR learning projects and studies.

Note that this emphasis on collaboration is in contrast to the tendency in some academic institutions to set students against each other in competition for the “best grades” or to see getting help from others as “cheating.” Note also that the most advanced, creative inquiry in the sciences and in most fields for that matter, is today pursued by collaboration among individuals wording together on multidisciplinary teams. The diverse perspectives provided by a team of individuals with varying life experiences and ways of looking at things are often very, very valuable to creative accomplishments and major breakthroughs in most fields.