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4.4: Collaboration

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    6492
  • Collaborative Writing on Larger Projects

    Collaboration on large and ongoing writing projects can be a rewarding experience for both teachers and students for several reasons.

    • Collaborative groups provide a “support” mechanism that can often times be very important when working on a research project. Writing and researching are hard work, and it can be comforting and encouraging to have the support of classmates to help you successfully complete projects.
    • Collaborating with others can often make more elaborate and sophisticated research projects possible. Simply put, by “putting their heads together,” writers working in groups can usually do more research and more analysis of a topic than someone working alone.

    Collaborating With Computers and the Internet

    Two of the most significant obstacles to collaborative writing, especially collaboration on larger writing projects, are time and place. It can be difficult to set up a meeting outside of class time that fits into the schedule of all the members of the group. This can obviously make for a frustrating and unpleasant collaborative experience.

    Computers and the Internet have dramatically extended the possibilities of collaborative writing projects. With tools like e-mail, chat room, and instant messaging, students can collaborate “asynchronously:“ that is, they can work with each other without having to meet in a specific place or at a specific time. While “live” communication tools like chat and instant messaging require participants to be interacting at the same time, students can still collaborate with each other without having to be in the same place.

    Chances are, you have already used email or instant messaging to do a form of “collaboration” online. Most of my students are familiar with these technologies, and many of my students use things like email or instant messaging to plan meetings or evening plans, even to do homework. Collaborative peer review doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this: emailing each other (usually by including a group of email addresses in the “to” line) or chatting with each other with one of the many commercial chat and instant messaging services.

    The Internet also has a lot of potential as a collaborative writing tool. For “very immediate and intimate” styles of collaborations, writers can work together on the same web site, but they can do it asynchronously. For projects that tend toward the “very distant” side of the collaboration spectrum, web writers can work on parts of a web site individually and then assemble them later. For more detail on creating collaborative web projects, see Chapter 12, “The Web-based Research Project.”This title will change...

    Of course, collaborating with each other with computers and the Internet is slightly different than collaborating “face to face” with each other. Here are some things to be think about and some things to avoid as you try to collaborate asynchronously:

    • Make sure everyone in your collaborative group is included in the discussion. This can be a problem with some email applications since automatically replying to the sender of a message doesn’t necessarily mean it will go to all of the members of your group. To make sure no one is left out, make sure that all members of the group have everyone’s correct email address, and make sure all of these addresses appear in the “To:” line of your email software. To include multiple email addresses in the “To:” line, separate each email address with a comma.
    • Make sure everyone in your collaborative group understands how to read and write messages in the format they are being sent. For example, if you and your group members decide to send attachments of writing projects to each other, make sure that everyone has access to the appropriate software and understands how to use it.
    • All of the group members need to read and respond to each other’s messages in a timely fashion. If some group members are in the habit of checking their email once every other week, that person will have to change their habits for the purposes of this project. Collaboration with email works best when each member of the group checks their email at least once a day.
    • Keep in mind the rules of good “netiquette” when working with your group members. In chapter two, “Understanding and Using the Library and the Internet for Research,” I provided a brief guide to the practice of good online etiquette, or “netiquette.” I would encourage you to review those guidelines as you work with your group members online. Remember that simple misunderstandings and miscommunications, the sorts of things that are usually easy to clarify in “face-to-face” interactions, can sometimes become arguments or “flames” online. So be sure to use common sense courtesy, and remember that there are “real people” behind the emails that you are sending.
    • Remember that some things are better done “face-to-face,” so be prepared to schedule some more traditional collaboration time. Computers and the Internet are rarely suitable to serve as a complete substitution for more traditional “face-to-face” collaboration experiences. While collaborating via e-mail is extremely convenient, it often isn’t very efficient. Writing and reading tasks that would only a few moments to discuss “face-to-face” can take days or longer to discuss online. So while using electronic tools like email can minimize the number of more traditional collaboration meetings you will need to have with your group members, it probably won’t eliminate them entirely.
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