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Do liberal arts students learn how to collaborate?

Nov 02, 2015   |   by Jeffrey Ruoff   |   The Conversation

Liberal arts colleges teach many valuable skills, but collaboration is not often among them.

This is curious, because virtually all human activities involve collective behavior. A conversation, or an article such as this, takes at least two to tango (or tangle, as the case may be). On a much larger scale, the electric companies that power my computer in New Hampshire, where I work, arise from immense cooperative activity. As UCLA anthropologist Alan Fiske argues, “The most striking characteristic of Homo sapiens is our sociality.”

It’s true that a liberal arts education strives to teach students “critical thinking.” And rather than narrow technical competencies, students in the liberal arts develop “writing, researching, quantitative, and analytical skills.”

However, in my view, our liberal arts curriculum doesn’t foster collaboration. ...

... At Dartmouth, the exception proves the rule: ... truly collaborative courses remain a tiny minority. The most renowned at Dartmouth may be Introduction to Engineering, a course the Thayer School of Engineering has offered for more than 45 years. In this hands-on class, undergrads work in teams of four to design original inventions that address real-world problems. Projects are graded collectively.

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