Tag Archives: collaboration

Collaborative Writing

Demotivational poster: Collaborate. Because sometimes your best option is to say "It's All Her Fault".

Collaborate / Mark / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Via ProfHacker, an interesting study titled Sharing and Collaborating With Google Docs: Influence of Psychological Ownership, Responsibility, and Student’s Attitudes on Outcome Quality (PDF).

Their summary states:

“Participants in all groups believed that collaboration improved the document quality. However, evaluation of the real contribution of collaboration was asymmetrical – students felt that while they did not exacerbate the document they read or edited, others worsened their own document by reading, suggesting or editing it. We therefore suggest that collaborative learning may be improved by encouraging collaboration mainly through suggesting and receiving improvements and less by editing each others’ writing.”

61% of Emerson students report having used Google Docs in the classroom, and 20% report using wikis. Does this finding change your view of how they should be used? Take our new poll and tell us how you feel your best writing happens!

Emerson on WordPress, Part 2

3 problems, one solution.


Elizabeth Parfitt wanted to get first year writing students to be engaged, motivated and to feel like their classroom work was important and relevant.

The WERS News team wanted a professional looking website – but WERS is run entirely by students who have limited time, resources, and web development experience.

Tim Riley wanted an easier way to manage his files and collect assignments.

Surprisingly, all 3 problems were addressed by using the same tool.


Part 2: WordPress and Web Design


WERS News logo

WERS News is an AP award winning radio news organization that is entirely student run. Their audience, however, is not limited to fellow students: their largest listener demographic is middle-aged Boston area listeners not affiliated with the Emerson community.

They needed a website that reflected their stature as a serious public radio news outlet. They had the content: their existing site had ~1000 posts, but it was cobbled together on an outdated and user-unfriendly platform. Webmaster Melyssa Cantor‘s goal was for the new site to be clean, simple, and user friendly. It should be a place where listeners could find everything they might need: audio and written reporting on current news stories, breaking news and photos via Twitter and Flickr, and archived audio of award winning programs.

The problem: they were students with many deadlines, a busy news organization to run, and not all of them had extensive web design experience.


The students decided that none of the free themes fit their needs, so they ended up buying a theme, and then customizing it further. In order to get the radio content online, they found a widget that converted the audio to mp3s, and then posted the mp3s in a text box. They used other widgets to pull in images from their flickr account and tweets from their twitter stream.

screenshot of WERS News blog

Every day there are 2 web writers who each write at least 3 stories per shift. The stories are published as ‘pending review’, and Editor in Chief Kyna Doles edits them before final publication. The writers and editors communicate frequently through email, as they are not often in the same space at the same time. WordPress saves each revision, so that writers can see what edits have been made. All of the web writers have editing permission, so that everyone can fix any errors they notice.


screenshot of WERSNews blog's sidebar

“A lot of what we had to do was testing things and trying them out. I’m not a designer, so I was nervous, but this was surprisingly easy! Every time we thought ‘it would be so great if WordPress did this’, we found a plugin or widget that did it.” – Kyna Doles

Emerson on WordPress, Part 1

3 problems, one solution.


Elizabeth Parfitt wanted to get first year writing students to be engaged, motivated and to feel like their classroom work was important and relevant.

The WERS News team wanted a professional looking website – but WERS is run entirely by students who have limited time, resources, and web development experience.

Tim Riley wanted an easier way to manage his files and collect assignments.

Surprisingly, all 3 problems were addressed by using the same tool.

Part 1: WordPress and Research Writing


Elizabeth Parfitt teaches WR121: a research writing class required for freshmen. Required courses can be difficult to teach, as keeping students engaged can be challenging. In order to increase student motivation, Beth wanted the work her students were doing in the classroom to be connected to the world outside of the classroom.

Beth designed her section to focus on Boston and the Creative Process. There are several components to the syllabus:

  • Students work in groups to research, write, and design Public Service Announcements for ONEin3 Boston, an organization that “connects Boston’s young adults with resources related to home buying, business development, professional networking, and civic engagement.” In order to facilitate communication with ONEin3 as well as with the filmmakers who will film the PSAs, Beth wanted to find a way to keep the work in a central place that is accessible to those outside Emerson.
  • Students do independent study research that relates to the city of Boston.
  • Students also study blogs as a genre of writing: their purpose, best practices of blog writing, and how bloggers convey a persona and voice.


screenshot of Research Boston blog

Beth has a group blog that all students can post to (She teaches two sections of this class, and both sections share the group space.) This blog is the hub of class activity, and is used for course management. Students post their ONEin3 PSA work to this class blog for peer review. Classmates comment on the blog post, and Beth comments there as well. Students know that Beth will be looking at the feedback they give to their peers, and they do write quite a bit! When it is time to revise, both student and professor feedback is located in one convenient place.

Students also have individual blogs, where they document their progress on individual research projects. Links to the individual blogs for both sections are located in the sidebar of the group blog. Students are writing for an audience outside of walls of classroom here as well: this is a chance for them to share their solo work with a community of writers.

On the first day of the semester, Beth establishes that public peer review and collaboration will be a foundation of the class. Students who would rather not participate are free to join one of the 44 other sections of the course. As far as privacy goes, Beth never releases grades through WordPress, but she does publicly comment on student work. However, the blogs are set up so that students need to approve comments before they appear. If there is a comment they don’t want the world to see, they can choose not to approve it – the comment will still be visible to them.


  • “Students who don’t like to talk in class love to talk on the blog – all of a sudden they have a voice!”
  • If students “write for their mom” instead of for an academic audience, it can result in better writing. It may be less formal, but it is more succinct and focused.
  • Students should write their posts and comments in Word first, and then paste them into the comment box.
  • The public nature of the blogs made the work feel relevant and important. Students could send the send their blog link to family, friends, and anyone else they would like to show.
  • Students were more interested in designing and personalizing their blogs than Beth had anticipated. Some of the blogs became quite customized and professional looking.
  • The blogs have worked wonderfully to develop student voice. Some blogs become fan favorites and racked up lots of visits. On the midterm evaluation, students indicated that they wanted to do even more reading of each other’s work.
  • There was a learning curve in the first couple of weeks for students and professor both. (Beth hadn’t used WordPress before this semester). Once everyone started using it, they picked it up relatively quickly.

screenshot of student blog
screenshot of student blog

Facebook in the classroom: Pros and Cons

facebook logo
How does Facebook relate to Higher Ed?
Inside Higher Ed gives you an overview here.
What could you use Facebook for?
It’s been used as place for discussion groups, as a learning management system, and as a character role-playing tool.
Why SHOULD I use it?

  • It promotes collaboration.
  • The interface is familiar to students: it’s not one more program they have to learn.
  • Using Facebook in class gives you an opportunity to discuss digital literacy with students. Per Professor Melanie McBride: “The greatest goal for educators using social media is to teach students to think critically about the uses and abuses of these tools. Namely, about user controls, privacy, democracy, ethics, compassion, and all the other things the corporate developers of social media would rather they DIDN’T learn.”

Why SHOULDN’T I use it?

  • This is perhaps obvious, but Facebook is not run by Emerson. That means that it can do whatever it wants with user data and accounts, and we have no control over it. It also has a small amount of ads.
  • Concerns about privacy: your privacy, and students’ privacy.
  • The “creepy treehouse” issue: defined by Prof Hacker as “the requirement, enforced by someone in authority, that others interact socially with them.”

What are the best practices for using it?

  • Take a look at your privacy settings (a good idea for everyone!)
  • Look at Facebook’s guidelines for educators. There are ways to interact that protect everyone’s privacy.
  • Have a plan for how you will handle the students that are not comfortable being on Facebook for whatever reason (opting out of technology, privacy needs because of abuse, etc.) How will this affect their grade?

Tips from ProfHacker (abridged):

  • Be transparent. Explain why it’s required, what students will be graded on, etc. Explain the tool’s ownership and logistics.
  • Deputize worthwhile ad-hoc groups. This encourages the perception-which hopefully is accurate!-that the class’s social media usage is bottom-up, and not top-down.
  • Be nimble. Notice how students are interacting with your course material, and put resources where they feel most comfortable.

Where should I look for further research?
danah boyd does a lot of research on teen and young adult social media use.