Choice in Collaborative Writing

Reading Krista Kennedy’s and Rebecca Moore Howard’s “Collaborative Writing, Print to Digital,” one word kept reverberating through my brain: choice.

Collaborative writing can be challenging to say the least. Teachers are faced with an overwhelming amount of choices in all stages of teaching: planning, teaching, and reflection towards revising. I appreciated that Kennedy and Moore Howard provided such thoughtful and practical strategies and options in this chapter, and they ended with a call for choice of methods and platforms as to not overwhelm the teacher with all the potentials available.

Once teachers assign collaborative writing, students are then faced with a myriad of choices: trying to come to an agreement of a product and often more importantly, the process to achieve said product.   This process looks different for each classroom, even if the class instructor has taught the same assignment before.

Teachers make choices; students make choices. However, sometimes students need more guidance with their choices. Thus, I even more so appreciated that they built in choice for students to have responsibility of not just the product but the process. A few examples I want to try in my classroom:

  1. Asking students to decide what type of groups to have while discussing the pros and cons of both (41)
  2. Allowing students the option to write a minority opinion (42-43)
  3. Including students in on the discussion of how the “shirker” (if one were to exist) would be fairly assessed (43)

Although some teachers might be afraid to allow students into the conversation of how to structure some classroom components, this does not give up control, but instead accomplishes a few important elements.

First, it allows the teacher to model the collaborative process in a respectful, productive manner. (Perhaps the teacher can be seen as a mentor allowing access to a discourse community a la Gee.) Second, it creates an environment in which students (hopefully) feel comfortable participating as they have noticed that their voice is a valid and slightly powerful one in the classroom.

Allowing students more control in the classroom is vital if teachers want collaborative writing assignments to succeed; however, one must never mistake allowing students more control and choice in the classroom with a lack of structure. In fact, this approach often requires much more structure on the teacher’s part, but the reward is that students should learn that all collaborative writing needs a semblance of structure or chaos could quite readily ensue.

Collaborative writing is risky, yet it is a reality of many workplaces as the authors point out in their first paragraph of the chapter (37). Thus the question becomes

To assign collaborative writing or not to assign collaborative writing?

That, dear addressed/invoked audience, is a choice.


  1. Kennedy and Moore Howard include some ideas for allowing dissensus. Any other ideas?
  2. What about students who are concerned about privacy when writing digitally? Or conversely, what about the lack of concern about privacy? Should discussions of privacy be inherent in a classroom that employs/requires public digital writing?

3 thoughts on “Choice in Collaborative Writing

  1. My snarky retort to any student concerned about privacy is: do you have Facebook? Yes, well, your privacy has been more violated by that platform than any discussion board posts for this class might achieve. You are betraying your privacy, your friends’ privacy, and your family’s privacy with every use of Facebook. If you disagree, please read Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future” and then see if anyone offers a rebuttal to its central argument. No success? Lets blog!

    More realistically, the concerns are valid, I think, because much online interaction for learning is not well planned yet. The tools outpace the pedagogy, it seems. Or, the tools become ideological imports, to use another prevalent term from the readings, that serve as tremendous constraints for what students might do. For example, I use OneDrive not because I enjoy it as a service or find it superior to GoogleDrive; I enjoy the indemnifying capacity of keeping “NDSU stuff” on NDSU servers.

    The concerns might also reflect a myopia about the affordances of certain collaborative (digital or face-to-face) activities. Choice(s) is the apt descriptor of the chapter.


    • Like Matt, I’m hesitant to suggest privacy is much of a concern for “young people these days.” That’s not to say, however, that it should be. Simply because our notion of privacy has shifted–or, as some say, “the age of privacy is over”–doesn’t mean our classrooms and education system should abandon the notion.

      That said, however, I’m not sure there’s much private out our educational system in the first place. We ask students to comment in class often. What they share is not private. Whether there are present or absent is not private information. Heck, even what students are wearing every day of class is publicly known by all classmates. I don’t mean to be flippant. Rather, I want to point out that our educational system already emphasizes in-person openness, sharing, and collaboration.

      In fact, collaborative writing might be done in even more private ways, if teachers used technology to support it–I’m thinking of private groups, anonymous profiles, etc. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it does strike me it’d actually be somewhat easier to host a discussion on an online message board than in face-to-face classrooms.


  2. Adam’s comment suggests both the issue of privacy and the issue of anonymity. These two things are likely different, though anonymity does mean you don’t reveal yourself as associated with your words. So, you make private your identity but not what you think. But we’ve discussed again and again the way that discourse changes in anonymous environments. Today what comes to mind is the harassment associated with gamergate. When people are effectively anonymous, they feel comfortable spreading libel. Perhaps public collaboration practice is practice in civility?

    I’ve always been willing to accommodate a writer who felt truly exposed in a public online environment, but I don’t always advertise that widely. I do think the issues of shifting privacy/publicity are well worth discussion in writing studies classes. As Matt points out, most forego true privacy as they adopt fully the many tools of social media, including Facebook.


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