“Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success!”
My first experience with collaborative writing process was few years ago when we were writing a project description with my freind who was in the U.S. while I was already in Armenia. We used Google docs to write together and sometimes we would also talk on Skype discussing what we were writing at the same moment, going back and editing, revising already written sections. I have since then loved the online collaboration especially at times when I had to put together a document which was then supposed to be approved and shared by many other people. But what I never realy reflected on was that all the people I ever since have done collaborative writing with were people I knew really well, people who I would talk to during the day many times on various issues. We had shared vision, we knew how we work individually and in a group and that’s why the collaboration has almost always been successful.
A week ago, however, I was assigned to use wikis for collaborative writing with my MA program peers. The assignemnt was for everybody to write together a 400 word essay about a topic that was specified. The essay turned to be an 8 pages long narrative which had many smal essays in it 🙂 Why was the assignment a failure? Very simple: there was no conversation between the writers, there was no discussion at all about what should be written and how and who is responsible for what. The reason? 32 people were trying to write a 400 word essay without communicating. Everybody wrote what we considered our part of the essay which in simple words translates: we didn’t act as a community.
As Susan Loudermilk Garza and Tommy Hern put in their article Wiki as a collaborative writing tool, “social construction theory has been influential in developing an understanding of the complex process of collaboration, because the essence of social construction is also the essence of collaboration. ” They further cite Thralls and Blyer (1993), who explain, “To summarize, the social constructionist approach focuses on community” (p. 13). The conclusion is obvious: “If social construction and collaboration are about community, then wikis are about building constructive communities.” (loc.cit.)
And as every community, wikis as collaborative writing online spaces, should require shared responsibilities, communication, negotiation of meaning and conflicts, mutual respect and solutions achieved together. The outcome of a wiki is a shared outcome whether it is a failure or success. This means, thus, that using wikis as collaborative writing tools in a classroom is not just a very effective writiting task but also a tool which can create the environemnt of community in the classroom, can bring peers together, can make the teaching/learning process a shared one.
If you wonder which wiki to use, consider checking out this link.
Have a great day everybody!