This week my tech writing students formed groups for their final project series (a group policy manual, a proposal, a set of directions, a usability report, and a final presentation to the class). I’m amazed with how quickly and smoothly most of the students got right to work on their group policy manuals Tuesday and today. I’m always worried about collaborative writing: will someone get stuck doing too much work, will group dynamics cause huge ruptures amongst members, will someone get sick and find it impossible to catch up with their group, will someone who the whole group is depending upon drop the class week 7 and not leave his or her work in the hands of a group member? There are so many more possibilities for failure when we ask our students to write collaboratively.
But, especially with technical documents, collaboration is the way writing is often done. And there are many benefits: writing is made explicitly social, the classroom is more verbal and students become more engaged, I don’t get burnt out on reading 55 assignments and instead get the pleasure of reading 15-20 assignments.
When I was an undergraduate, I hated working in groups. It meant relying on other people (I was and still am a bit too much of a rugged individualist), working around schedules (I was always so busy), and sometimes me having to re-teach the material that others didn’t get. Now, I love collaborating. I’ve had a number of successful collaborative efforts: Luke and my workshop at a conference, Sara and my talks at a couple conferences, Heather and my LGBT studies class, Sarah and my paper for a course last year. These were all fun, and I learned a lot from those I worked with and from the process itself.
And I’ve become sold on incorporating it in the classroom. This term I’m stealing an assignment from another instructor: the group policy manual. It seems like a great way to start off the collaborative work because it explicitly asks the students to create guidelines for their collaboration and clear expectations for each other. And, at least from the work I’ve seen students do in class, because writing this document requires discussing various aspects of group work and coming to an agreement, I am not seeing the most common problem I usually see in collaborative writing: one person carrying the majority of the weight.
Now, if only our quarter system was a semester system…