Sweden’s Collaborative Environment

I haven’t talked much about work. It is going well.

I will be conducting research among rektors (principals) of upper-secondary schools (high schools) in 10+ schools in Malmö, Sweden to examine “paradoxes” of multicultural (immigrant) incorporation. I am writing up the research plan now and will start interviews sometime this month. My initial approach will be to consider the dual roles of rektors as school managers who encounter the pragmatic challenges of school diversity and as school marketing agents who need to develop and safeguard the reputation of their schools in order to compete for students. There is loads of interesting stuff going on here that I will get into over time. One of the big issues is school choice in Sweden – from my perspective a surprisingly un-Swedish educational reform that creates an open market for high schools. I’ve got at least a couple interesting posts in the works on that one.

So, work is interesting but beyond that the folks I am working with are all really nice and supportive. One of the biggest differences I see between the U.S. (and Chinese) and the Swedish academy is the extent to which research and teaching are conducted in a very collaborative environment here.

For example, course are taught differently. Instead of taking 4 courses a term (or whatever), courses last only for a few weeks and students take only one at a time but several over the course of the term. Later in the semester I am teaching Global Labor Migration. I am the primary lecturer for the course. I will give 4 2- hour lectures, a graded assignment, lead 2-hour discussion seminars (one for each of 3 small sections) and give another lecture. Then 3 additional faculty members will teach other parts of the course (either giving a lecture or leading a seminar and, screening a couple of films). I will write and grade the final exam.

A similar approach exists for research as well. Teaching makes up a significant portion of folks’ contracted hours (except me since I have 75% research gig) so those who want to be doing research apply for grants to buy out of teaching. Most people apply in partnership with others. Co-authorship is quite common. Furthermore, folks are very generous with their time, spending many hours reading the work of others and providing feedback in seminars. This morning, I spent nearly three hours in a meeting with other folks doing work affiliated with my own research. We spent the whole time just talking about what we were going to do, providing insight, and brainstorming interview questions, likely pitfalls, etc. In my experience such collaborative efforts are very rare, but I wish that was not the case.

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