The Challenges We Faced
Written by Brittany Cottrill Lloyd
Collaborative writing is hard, especially the first time it is attempted. Writers have their own processes, so collaborative writing requires finding a balance between one's own process and the expectations of one's collaborators. This is no different in a classroom setting. It takes time to establish trust and interest, and these challenges presented themselves in real way. As an example, the group set a deadline for a first draft. Sitting on the outside of the decision-making process, I assumed that since they had agreed on the day and they had the added pressure of not wanting to let their peers down, everyone would stay generally on task. Even so, when the first draft workshop arrived, there were writers who had drafts, there were others who had some notes, and there were still those who hadn't done all of their assigned reading, let alone begun their draft. This inconsistency among writers didn't stop with drafts.
There were challenges that weren't unexpected. As with any assignment, some students had more to say than others, which led to inconsistency in the length of reviews. Some contributors were more or less invested than others, and the imbalance led to some tense discussion. But there were other challenges that arose because of cross-disciplinary collaboration.
It was challenging for the writers to come to terms about the style the review would take. Students from journalism struggled to transition back into academic writing, as an example. Some of the English majors, on the other hand, struggled to avoid too much summary without the analysis. Even having done numerous rhetorical analyses of book reviews, no student–writer felt completely confident in the genre, but they continued to work together.
One concern students rightfully raised was how we would design the review. Most of them had little to no experience building websites, and realistically one can only learn so much in a single semester. We considered a number of options including trying to make the website from scratch using Dreamweaver, but ultimately decided to use a template. Each contributor proposed a template that they found and felt would work for the review, and we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of them. In the end, we agreed upon a template.
The revision process was another challenge we faced. The inherent challenge with collaborative writing, particularly when your collaborators are students, is that collaborators can leave. Because the majority of the writers for this project were undergraduate students, when the class ended, their level of participation, understandably, waned. Because of that, the revision process for this webtext was unconventional.
After receiving feedback from reviewers, I emailed the collaborators and asked if anyone wanted to continue with the project through revision. Some students had graduated and likely no longer checked their school email, others didn't have time, but some were interested. As a professional, I understand that writing and research is part of my job. Students too often see writing as part of their job—the job of being a student—so writing is for the classes they are in, not more work outside of the classes. Because of this, it was hard to find time to work together.
In the end, the revision process happened largely through a shared Google Doc, email, and a few face-to-face meetings.