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What Google Shows Us About the Present and Future of Online Collaboration

Friday, June 16, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Summary: Zoe Sullivan

The following digest reviews the article “The Future of Work: What Google Shows Us About the Present and Future of Online Collaboration” by Christina Moore, published in TechTrends in May, 2016. The article summary below provides a brief overview of literature of the knowledge work environment most college graduates will enter and how universities and companies can integrate Google’s collaboration tools to foster social digital work environments. The full article can be viewed at the following web address: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11528-016-0044-5

Article Summary

General education provides training on skills that are important across disciplines, such as writing, critical thinking, communication, but the author asserts that universities should teach these skills in a way that fosters students’ ability to be successful in future careers. Specifically, universities should adequately prepare students for future careers in “knowledge work”, or work environments where knowledge is the product at hand, as opposed to a tangible item. Google’s online collaborative tools provide a practical example of how universities can implement more effective online collaboration skills in coursework and career activities.

In a survey of more than one thousand U.S. recent graduates, respondents reported that the real-world problem-solving skills linked to success in the workplace were only developed after leaving the university. Specifically looking at the use of online collaborative tools, such as video conferencing, 86% of students reported that although they often used technology for assignments, they did not use online collaboration tools in the same manner as in the professional world.

Since universities prepare graduates for the professional world, Moore asserts that we should build university activities to include relevant skills utilized in the current work environment. Scholars studying the future of work see the need for having command of collaborative online networks and systems as increasing steadily.

It is important to note that although the term “online collaboration” typically conveys a sense of less-social interactions, scholars have shown that knowledge work relies on a type of online collaboration that provides a more social atmosphere than typical online platforms. While professional knowledge workers are a part of company, they may work from an individualized schedule and/or remote environment. In order to maintain a sense of community and belonging, effective knowledge work environments will need to focus on the producer, rather than the product, and create an atmosphere in which collaborator’s care about one another’s’ work in order to cultivate more social connections. The question then becomes, how does one create a digital environment that still unites its' contributors? Additionally, how do we ensure we are providing similar environments through our classrooms and workshop activities?

To answer this question, the author proposed methods in which universities can integrate Google’s free collaboration tools in classrooms and activities in order to better prepare future knowledge workers. Many of the tools are already utilized in educational settings, but in order to ensure that students are making the best use of the tools, we must consider organizational structures that motivate collaborators, such as the work culture at Google. A previous study found that the top two citizenship behaviors ranked by Google employees were employee sustainability and social participation, factors focused on building wellness and camaraderie rather than productivity. This highlights the notion that knowledge workers do not need extrinsic motivators to work, but rather wellness activities that sustain intrinsic motivation to work.

Additionally, the tools themselves can provide a more collaborative look and feel to work through “version-less” editing – such as when an employee or student sees another user viewing or editing the same Google doc.

In a specific instance where Google technologies were used to create a truly collaborative, digital classroom, Barton and Klint (2011) reported utilizing a combination of Google Drive, WebEx, and Google Appointments. Google Drive allowed for student teams to maintain files, WebEx allowed students to web conference for team meetings and to meet with the professor virtually, and Google Appointments allowed the students to schedule their own appointments with the professor, which were flexible and not contained to set “office hours”.

Overall, the author proposes the following as guiding objectives for instituting a collaborative online environment for a classroom or workshop that will enhance future knowledge workers’ workplace aptitudes:

  1. Encourage citizenship behaviors: consider how to integrate and assess students’ behaviors for caring for one another
  2. Check assumptions about the tech-savviness of the “Google Generation”: many students might be comfortable with technology, but not necessarily collaborative technology. Assess students at the beginning of the course or activity to get a better understanding of where their skills lie.
  3. Have students write their own guide to collaborative technologies specific to the class or activity and illustrate how these skills translate to the professional world to create “buy in” as to why collaboration is worth practicing.
  4. Structure assignments with place for intrinsic motivation, such as open inquiry or personal connection to the content.
  5. Create a rubric for collaboration rather than cooperation, rather it encourages grading based on how much collaborative process or communication there was instead of being based on each individual’s contribution to the final product.
  6. Include online collaboration as a part of teamwork.

Implications for Career Services Professionals

As students become hungrier for digital versions of the traditional Career Services’ workshops, it becomes important to consider how career services professionals can integrate a collaborative work environment into the activities held in such workshops within a digital space. Additionally, this framework can provide guidance to career services offices tasked with delivering courses on career development, by providing practitioners with guidance to properly encourage collaborative work environments to foster the workplace skills of future knowledge workers. For leaders in Career Services who have the opportunity to consult with academics, the framework from this article can be shared with faculty who teach digital or hybrid classes.

Implications for Recruiting Professionals and Employers

For employers interested in becoming more involved in the classroom, consider the opportunity of presenting how online collaboration works in your individual workplace in a classroom. Additionally, for organizations that utilize collaborative online tools often in work scenarios, it might also be beneficial to have new hires complete a training on effective online collaboration habits. Organizations might also consider intrinsic motivators to incentivize employees to engage in their work, such as creating digital means of meaningful interactions including web conferencing capabilities. 

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