The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
How leaders choose to lead inevitably has impacts on those who follow them. From the beginning of AstrobiologyOU, its directors have aspired to lead the group collaboratively. As a relatively uncommon leadership model in academia, the investigation of the impacts of this style of leadership is warranted.
Using semi-structured interviews and scenario workshops, we examined the experience, meaning, behaviours, knowledge of and impacts of collaborative leadership from the perspective of (i) members of the AstrobiologyOU leadership team, (ii) current and former research students (iii) postgraduate tutors and associated professional services and the OU graduate school, with the aim of identifying ways to enhance the learning experience of postgraduate research students working in collaboration and under collaborative leadership.
For the leaders of AstrobiologyOU, sharing responsibilities through collaborative leadership offers flexibility and support. However, it challenges institutional systems that are predicated on individual achievement and leadership. For postgraduate students and other colleagues, the sense of collaboration throughout the group has created a well-balanced working environment in which people feel trusted and respected, as well as offering access to people with a wide range of expertise and skills. However, particularly for postgraduate students, there are challenges arising from working with teams made up of supervisors from different disciplinary traditions, exacerbated by having to negotiate institutional systems built on a model of single-discipline working, with consequent inconsistencies in processes and expectations in different schools and faculties.
Based on the evidence of this small study, we make two suggestions for ways to enhance the learning experience of postgraduate students working in a culture of collaborative leadership: (i) investigate ways to make systems and processes more streamlined and coherent across schools and faculties and (ii) review pathways for sharing information to ensure they are agile, responsive and use tools and media familiar to students.