Behind the screen: intergroup collaboration in developing university-based online learning resources

Botterill, M 2013, Behind the screen: intergroup collaboration in developing university-based online learning resources, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Behind the screen: intergroup collaboration in developing university-based online learning resources
Author(s) Botterill, M
Year 2013
Abstract Over the past two decades, universities have faced unprecedented changes and challenges that have re-defined what they are as organisations. The transition to the knowledge economy—underpinned by ongoing advancements in Information and Communication Technologies, especially the Internet—has impacted greatly on the design and delivery of higher education, as evidenced through the rise of eLearning platforms and resources. Universities are large and complex organisations that comprise many groups. Traditionally, these groups account for academic and professional staff. However, because of the changing nature of work in knowledge-intensive organisations, such as universities, there has been an increase in interdisciplinary project-based teams that span organisational boundaries, which has given rise to a new group, Third Space professionals. These staff work in unbounded and blended capacities with colleagues from other organisational groups. Thus, this research seeks to explore the ways intergroup relations between these groups affect collaboration in interdisciplinary project-based teams. The main research question is: What helps, hinders and facilitates collaboration in university-based, cross-organisational, interdisciplinary teams in developing online learning resources? To answer this question, a collective case study of three, officially funded, online resource development projects was undertaken. Data from 17 in-depth, semi-structured interviews—along with written post-interview reflections, document analysis, and unstructured non-participant observation—were explored and analysed. Each case was explored individually before comparisons were made through a cross-case analysis in order to answer the main research question. The research design is underpinned by an organisational development theory, Embedded Intergroup Relations Theory (Alderfer, 1987) which comprises five interdependent analytic lenses: group boundaries, power differences, affective patterns, cognitive formations (Discourses), and leadership behaviours. By acknowledging the complexity of relationships between and among groups embedded in their contexts—in this case a university—an organisational development theory offers a framework for exploring how intergroup relations affect collaboration in interdisciplinary project-based teams. The study found that the permeability of group boundaries has a significant impact on the success (or not) of each project. More specifically, it found that the quality of the startup processes in each project either enhanced or exacerbated interdisciplinary collaboration in the teams. Projects became contested spaces when there was an inability to defer to other people’s horizontal expert authority, which was also affected by the amount of interdisciplinary overlap between different task group functions in the teams. Finally, the study found that interdisciplinary collaboration was affected by levels of complexity, especially organisational complexity, in the projects. The findings of this study provide significant new knowledge into factors that affect intergroup collaboration in interdisciplinary teams, and promote organisational learning in relation to what helps, hinders and facilitates collaboration in interdisciplinary teams working in the third space project domain in developing online learning resources.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Keyword(s) online learning
embedded intergroup relations theory
third space professionals
tertiary education
universities as workplaces
interdisciplinary teams
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Created: Fri, 06 Jun 2014, 13:25:15 EST by Lynne Johns
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