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Multimodal Mondays: Community Wikis As Collaborative Service Projects

posted: 10.6.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s Multimodal Mondays post comes from guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon.

In their collaborative text, Writing Together, Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford discuss the participatory process of new media writing in terms of how it “provides opportunities for writerly agency, even as it challenges notions of intellectual property” (241).  Their argument makes me think about multi-authored pieces as more than just assignments.  Opportunities for diverse acts of composition, often taking the form of Wikis, create, nurture, and produce communities of writers as much as they produce well-researched, living products that can live and serve audiences outside of our university walls.  Digital writing spaces, such as Wikis, provide a basecamp for these types of projects that can grow over time, through iterations and editions based on feedback from audiences and users.

When we produce these organic digitalities as communal practice, we also produce opportunities for student-scholars to negotiate their own rhetorical growth and take ownership of associated outcomes. The foundations of democratic learning pair exceptionally well with multimodal acts of composition and the community-building components of our digital tools.

For the Wiki writing assignment I describe here, students work first as single authors and researchers, and then in a large, collaborative group of writers led by two student editors.   In addition to rhetorical goals of textual process and production, students also practice evaluation and feedback methods as they discuss theirs and others’ single-authored entries among their community members in an open atmosphere.  We often work in what our Women in STEM editors call “creative chaos,” in a computer lab where a group of writers simultaneously edits individual pieces of text using Google Docs.

Goals

  • Learn to effectively use collaborative writing spaces (Wikis) as an invention tool
  • Learn to write with peers to develop single-authored pieces within a holistic text
  • Design an e-document with consistency in structure, syntax, and visuality
  • Articulate and negotiate meaning for a diverse audience of readers

The Assignment
Here is a summary, written by our editors, of what we did for our Wiki project in a special topics composition course, titled “Women In STEM.” Our group’s overarching goal for our Wiki was to produce well-researched, single-authored entries and combine them into a consistent e-text, then disseminate the linked document to organizations and schools for curriculum enrichment for grades 7-12.

“As a research project for an SPSU composition course, student-scholars created a Wiki for educational use across disciplines in middle and high schools.  This collaborative, digital resource recovers forgotten women in STEM fields and provides an educational space for writing across the curriculum in secondary learning environments.  We envision this e-document as a resource for both teachers and students to engage in activities connected to women in STEM.  Please feel free to share this Wiki with others.  Editors Amelia Dunbar and Woodrow Kavanaugh, as well as our staff of writers, welcome you to distribute this Wiki far and wide to help contribute to our community of knowledge.” Women in STEM Wiki

Suggested Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Ch. 6, “Working with Others”
  • The Everyday Writer: Ch. 5, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate”
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 7h, “Collaboration and Communication”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 1h, “Collaboration”
  • PBWorks Help Page

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
A wiki project requires a collaborative writing space, either physical, virtual or a hybrid.

  1. Before class, students research a specific topic within a larger field of interest.  Students in our group researched women in STEM fields for two weeks.
  2. Then, each student brings her/his selected subjects from chosen topics to the group.  In our project, each individual writer came to the group with at least two women in STEM that the writer identified as opportunities for recovery.
  3. Narrow the big list of possible subjects down to a manageable list (very subjective!).  As a group, we narrowed the list down to twenty entries.  Each participant took ownership for one woman-subject.
  4. After two weeks of initial research and a week or so of group discussion, students nominate and choose one or two editors to manage the project.  In our group, I stepped back completely, and our two student-chosen editors ran our collaborative editing sessions in class.

Now, we’re ready to “wiki.”

In Class
In-class collaboration is the foundation of a Wiki writing project.  So, instructors should work with writers and editors to schedule “Write & Design” studio days for collaborative writing and editing. I have found that, out of a 16-week semester, a third of instructional days after the initial three-week research period, works best to allow for a usable end product.

Our group identified writing and designing days and placed them on our LMS calendar.  The group decided on penalties for no-shows on those days.  This act was an important community-building distinction and was enforced by the editors on a case-by-case basis.  In fact, I have never had students decline to participate in these days (emergencies excepted), because by this time they generally understand and value their vital role in our community of writers and they see the value of our textual production to a larger community.

On “Write & Design” days, activities include:

  • Heading/sub-heading organization of content
  • Defining visual rhetorics and parameters for all entries
  • Ensuring consistency in word counts for individual entries
  • Finding and sourcing visuals for each entry
  • Building syntactical and formatting consistency among entries (we used MLA and multiple Wiki examples as general guides)
  • Navigating the Wiki platform (we used PBWorks ) to upload and design the overarching e-document

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
In the last editing round and final upload of Wiki articles, the community of writers participates in de-briefing sessions, led by student editors.  Our group assessed our Wiki using questions like the following:

  • How well did we collaborate on individual pieces and on the whole text?
  • How consistent is the final product for structure, syntax and visuality?
  • What community audiences can we further identify to use our Wiki?
  • How might we improve a Wiki writing experience now and for future students?

The editors and I both recorded feedback and posted it on our course blog for everyone to read and respond.

My Wiki POV
The key to a group’s success with a community service wiki is two fold: 1) produce a piece of easily accessible e-text for groups outside of a university to use; and 2) each student produces and takes credit for a single-authored piece of the text and attaches her/his name to it.  These single-authored pieces, as well as the entire e-document for editors, become lines on their Curriculum Vitas, which gives each writer a defined, scholarly accomplishment.

As I reflect on why I argue that we should do collaborative Wiki projects, I have found that a great impetus for authentic, student engagement is democratic writing that serves a greater purpose.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course and achieve learning goals if they know that their writing will be read and valued by communities outside of our university walls.  In composition courses, Wikis are an easy and intuitive way for students to practice their research, writing, and design skills for a diverse audience of users.

For us as instructors, our fundamental role in collaborative text production is to step back, facilitate support in seeking out community audiences, and provide instruction on the rhetorical elements necessary for effective community-based writing.  When we are able to step away from the center and let our students take the lead, we engender their growth as rhetors and scholars, helping them develop informed voices as they enter into multi-discursive conversations.

Please visit our Women in STEM wiki and let us know what you think!

I also welcome and value all individual feedback.  Please visit my blogs: http://rhetoricmatters.org/ and http://growthb4grades.edublogs.org/.

 Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at jbohanno@spsu.edu.

 

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

 

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