Medlaunch Collaboration Workshop

Aug 1, 2019 - May 1, 2020

At the start of the 2019-20 school year, MedLaunch, a student organization that promotes student innovation in healthcare at the University of Michigan, approached staff at ArtsEngine with a request for a workshop. (ArtsEngine supports the integration of the arts on U-M’s North Campus, where the College of Engineering is housed, and works closely with a2ru.) MedLaunch students were at the beginning of a year-long team process to design, build, and test assistive technology, with a goal of improving health in the community surrounding U-M. Recognizing that MedLaunch aims to bring together students from not only science and engineering but also the arts and humanities, ArtsEngine Managing Director Deb Mexicotte knew that many of the tools in the Collaboration Kit would benefit these undergrads. However, she also knew that with only a two-hour time slot, and some specific student needs that the Kit doesn’t address, she and Student Program Manager Amy Tackitt would need to tailor the workshop to be effective.

Since many MedLaunch students would attend the workshop in already-formed teams, Mexicotte and Tackitt defined the goals of this crash course in collaboration as:

  • identifying the skills that team members bring to the table,
  • developing strategies for clarity among group members,
  • crafting a working team charter,
  • and planning for renegotiation as the team evolves.

With a tightly packed agenda that interspersed discussion and debriefing among the activities, here is an overview of the ArtsEngine Collaboration Workshop for MedLaunch, September 25, 2019:

AUDIENCE: Undergraduate students at the University of Michigan

FORMAT: Two-hour workshop, with voluntary attendance

GOAL: Equip students to work in interdisciplinary teams on a year-long project

Introductory Mad Libs

ArtsEngine staff adapted Introductory Mad Libs from the Collaboration Kit Workbook, tailoring the classic fill-in-the-blank activity for their student audience. The Mad Libs asked participants to not only list their skills associated with their field or discipline (such as computer coding or design) but also their skills outside their discipline (such as baking or a foreign language). In addition, students wrote what they needed personally from a collaboration.

Pineapple Paddles

The Collaboration Kit offers “Pineapple!” as a strategy for overcoming language difference. Team members who come from different backgrounds and disciplines often use terminology in ways that their collaborators don’t understand, yet clear communication is critical. Agreeing to say “Pineapple!” when team members don’t understand what a term means provides a light-hearted, even silly way to productively move through moments of non-comprehension that might otherwise be glossed over. Anticipating that this strategy could quickly become disruptive in a tightly packed room of students, ArtsEngine staff created Pineapple Paddles. They instructed workshop participants to hold up their paddles rather than call out “Pineapple!” when they didn’t understand how a term was being used.

Team Skills Chart

For this very early moment in a year-long process, ArtsEngine staff assessed that students needed not only to consider all the skills required to complete their projects, but also to be aware of the range of skills that their team members bring to the table. The Collaboration Kit does not address these particular needs, so ArtsEngine devised a new activity as well as the resources to support it. Students were asked to work together to fill out a Skills Chart, assembling all the skills –both academic and otherwise–that team members had listed on their Introductory Mad Libs. Once the Skills Chart was complete, students used specially made stickers to classify the skills on their chart as Leadership/Collaborative, Communication, Interpersonal, Creative, or Technical. The activity led to a discussion about the scope and demands of the project, and all that would be needed to complete it.

Team Charter

Establishing ground rules at the outset is important for any collaboration, and The Collaboration Kit includes a Team Charter that workshop participants complete together. They must define goals, roles, responsibilities, and methods, and lay plans for communication and leadership. It is understood that some of these things are unknowable at an early stage of collaboration, and that others will need to be revisited later. Teams in the MedLaunch workshop created a Collaboration Kit Team Charter, and were encouraged to use it throughout the year.

Planned Renegotiation

Recognizing that the expectations established at the beginning of a collaboration usually don’t hold up in reality, The Collaboration Kit includes several videos that lay out strategies for conflict resolution and renegotiation of roles. ArtsEngine screened these videos for MedLaunch workshop participants, emphasizing that they will need to renegotiate and they will need to do it often, so they might as well plan for it!

How Did It Go?

ArtsEngine administered a follow-up survey to students who attended the MedLaunch Collaboration Workshop, asking them to rate the effectiveness of the workshop and its various activities. The survey also asked students to explain their ratings, and to write a tweet describing the workshop to another student interested in collaboration.

Most students (78%) were satisfied with the workshop experience overall, rating it between 6 and 9 (on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being best). All the tweets were positive (although negative ones were suggested as a possible choice), including “Learn how to actually collaborate with a team and actually be productive off the bat–team work is required in basically every class at this university,” and “This workshop helped me to get a feel for the members of the team as well as set some guidelines that will (hopefully) keep us all in check…”

The Introductory Mad Libs and Team Skills Chart were considered the most valuable activities; “I loved the skill identifying section as I got to learn a lot about my teammates,” and “I think the ranking your skills activity is extremely important especially so that we as a whole group could see where our strengths lie” were typical comments. Students were less impressed with Pineapple, commenting, “I feel like pineapple is just a pretty awkward concept in general,” and  “I did not find myself using the pineapple much so it felt useless to me.” Mexicotte and Tackitt observed that the activity does require a certain loss of dignity that undergraduates meeting each other for the first time are unlikely to take on. However, based on the overall success of the event, they continue to use and adapt the Collaboration Kit activities in ongoing workshops.