Can academic writing be collaborative?

In a search for articles that discuss uses of Web 2.0 tools in the work of learning advisers I found one about a collaborative academic project. Staff at the Writing Centre at London Metropolitan University set up an evolving essay online with one of their student mentors as the writer. They wanted to open up the writing processes the student (or any academic writer) goes through – planning, notemaking, drafting, revising but importantly, thinking.

The student wrote a psychology essay, using a wiki, over 6 weeks. The project was carried out over two and a half years and is still available at http://anessayevolves.blogspot.co.uk She kept a blog and other people could comment on both the blog posts and the wiki. The authors claim it created “a project-focused knowledge-building community” (p. 67) and that we can see the student writer, prompted by the contributors’ comments, developing awareness and competence in writing. They say she developed awareness and ability to follow academic conventions and ‘moves’, expressed positive and negative feelings and overall developed a sense of identity as an academic writer. It’s interesting that both student and staff contributors to the wiki didn’t actually edit the essay, which had been the initial intention – they preferred to make suggestions and encourage.

The project seemed to enable participants to reflect on the process and confusions they themselves go through. One tentative claim made is that people are more ready to disclose feelings online than in the real world – not sure that I agree with this.

However this project lays bare the social aspects of writing – and in fact people may collaborate on texts (reports, news publications, articles) in their future workplaces so that’s one justification for a project like this. Now, are blogs and wikis the best ways to get collaboration going in my own teaching / learning project about post-graduate supervision?

Harrington, K., O’Neill, P., & Reynolds, L. (2011). Using wikis and blogs to support writing development: The online evolving essay project In S. Little (Ed.), Staff-student partnerships in higher education (pp. 16-30). London: Continuum.

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One thought on “Can academic writing be collaborative?

  1. Working closely with the student to help them develop their project reports is a good way of achieving the objective of having them learn how to produce professional outputs. However it takes time. I have four research students and we do a similar process. They submit their drafts and I comment either using the MS Word comment facility or in F2F discussions. They have just submitted their first (5 page) document but I must have spent 1 to 2 hours per student to enable them to produce a reasonable report.

    There are some pretty exciting web tools that can help with collaborative writing. One that I found is Webspiration (http://www.mywebspiration.com) which allows students to develop a mindmap which then forms into the report headings which is turn can have text added to produce a report . The other is Protagonize (http://www.protagonize.com) which includes collaborative writing activities.

    Regarding your comment about students more readily sharing their feeling online. I saw a similar claim that online communications can encourage shy students to engage. The writer pointed out that nobody is shy within themselves and online communications is really just you and a computer. I think this ability to allow introverts to become involved is a definite advantage of online communication.

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