The days of rugged individualism are over. Being a maverick and going your own way are outdated. We are entering an age where success is measured by how well you are able to collaborate and draw on the strengths of groups.
The main reason for this is the lack of barriers for people to connect, share ideas, and mash up other peoples’ ideas. Things like wikis, cloud computing, social-networking, etc. are making it possible, unlike ever before to work collaboratively.
We used to have to worry about coordinating everyone’s schedule. Now it’s possible to not even have to know what your co-collaborators even look like. People can work on projects in their own way and on their own time. They use their own strengths and interests to contribute to the whole.
An example of this is Wikipedia. Not many people care or even know about the Penny Red. But enough people do so that you can now know what it is. In this way very successful products are created. In the case of Wikipedia the product is a great storehouse of shared knowledge, and a place to go for quick answers.
In the academic world it should be no different. Professors should be assigning more group work, not only the traditional research paper. We do hold that up as a standard of scholarship, but at least at our institution, we are not trying to create scholars. We are trying to create successful citizens of this country and this world. We are trying to prepare them for careers where they will need to be easily adaptable and be able to work as a group.
Research papers are worthwhile and fine in small doses. But we should be getting more creative with assignments. How about one where they research and add successful edits to a Wikipedia entry? How about creating a Common Craft like video explaining their topic in an easy to understand way?
A research paper is so personal and often only the student and professor see it. Editing Wikipedia is beneficial for everyone and teaches collaborative, 21st century skills.