ncu-fall-2017-cover-feature-technology-collaboration

How Technology is
Shaping the Way We Collaborate

Written by Judy Tierney

What does it mean to collaborate? For many, the word conjures up images of individuals working side by side to complete a project. Others may envision a brainstorming session or a group of colleagues sharing ideas about how to solve a problem.

Dr. J. Robert Sapp Dr. J. Robert Sapp

While it may have slightly different connotations to each of us, for most there is a common denominator: people. In fact, Merriam Webster’s definition is “to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor.”

Dr. J. Robert Sapp, Founding Dean of NCU’s School of Technology is challenging us to think about collaboration in a whole new way. Higher Degrees spoke to Sapp to understand his perspectives on how collaboration is evolving to include not only our interactions with others, but with the tools and technologies that are becoming part of our new reality.

“There is a gut level response to thinking about collaboration in terms of one-to-one or even one-to-many interactions,” says Sapp. “Today we can collaborate with all kinds of things, including systems, data, applications and knowledge resources.”

Sapp and a carefully selected team of industry experts are already working in this mindset to develop six new technology programs. In addition to the master’s and doctoral programs in Technology Innovation Management (TIM) that have transferred from the School of Business, the School of Technology will initially offer Master of Science degrees in Computer Science, IT, Cybersecurity and Data Science, as well as Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Computer Science and Data Science.

“Today we can collaborate with all kinds of things, including systems, data, applications and knowledge resources.”

Dr. J. Robert Sapp, Founding Dean of NCU’s School of Technology

Despite his 20 years of experience in senior and executive technical management and online positions, or perhaps because of it, Sapp approaches each new role with an openness to do things differently. “While we need to consider the old ways of using technology, we can’t be handcuffed by them,” he explains. “I don’t want us to be limited by using just the metaphors of traditional higher education.”

“When we look at data science, for example, there isn’t an overall accreditation body or an associated credential, so we need to look at how the field is constantly changing to assess the needs of our students,” says Sapp. “As a result, we’ve identified a lifecycle for the data science programs based on a comprehensive review of best practices in the industry.”

At the heart of Sapp’s ideology for online technical education is optimizing ways for students to learn. “We won’t settle for virtual lecture halls and labs when the technology affords us better ways,” he explains. “We must reconsider the entire learning process and the full benefits that technology provides.”

Sapp’s goal for the School of Technology is to provide the best means to transfer skills and knowledge to his students, not just by creating online versions of the traditional learning methods but through whole new instructional models. As an example, he describes a scenario where a professor introduces a concept that’s difficult, but necessary for a student to understand.

“Imagine that while the class is moving on to the next topic, a student can stop and take the time he needs to focus until he fully comprehends the area in which he’s struggling,” says Sapp. “The ability to enhance knowledge through dedicated collaboration with resources you need, before you move on, is powerful.” NCU’s one-to-one interaction provides students with a great deal of access to support and enables them to control their pace.

Technology today is creating more levels in the way we communicate, a term Sapp refers to as “stratifying.” From tools like Twitter that provide simple collaboration with reduced syntax and sentence structure to robust applications that allow us to manipulate and interpret data, each meets a specific need. Sapp believes these enhanced opportunities for more dynamic interaction give us a better capacity for richer relationships with the content.

“The ability to enhance knowledge through dedicated collaboration with resources you need, before you move on, is powerful.”

Dr. J. Robert Sapp

“Our synchronous communications online already help people to more effectively share information, images and graphics and to exchange ideas,” says Sapp. “Asynchronous communication takes us to the next level by allowing us to examine questions and perspectives through knowledge resources, and then synthesize them with other ideas to add creativity, insight, and ultimately, wisdom.”

"Incorporating technology into our collaboration can significantly increase the value of our output,” Sapp continues. “Think about the value of multiple people interpreting information and then having an expert in the field analyze and refine those results into something that can be used across the industry. The possibilities are limitless.”

As the concept of collaboration continues to evolve, Sapp believes it’s more important than ever to prepare students for the way business will be conducted in the future. Face-to-face and one-to-many interactions aren’t going away and will still play an important role in our day-to-day reality. What is less ordinary, he says, are the interactive collaborations using technology that NCU students will be engaged in as part of their careers.

In Sapp’s view, traditional classrooms no longer reflect what students are likely to see in industry. “NCU’s one-to-one model is more representative of how people will interact in the future with their colleagues and companies, and we have an obligation to provide this environment for students,” he tells us. “It’s not enough for our instruction to provide the knowledge and skills they need for their careers. Our learning environment will also reflect how they will work.”