Collaboration and Negotiations

After reading Scott Warnock’s Chapters 10-18, I found myself drawn to two main ideas: collaboration and assessment. They may seem like two separate topics, but I am thinking about them in terms of collaborative assignments and how we would go about grading/assessing such assignments. Scott Warnock’s chapter on “Collaboration” is short, but when read in conjunction with the other chapters on “Assignments,” “Peer Review,” and “Grading,” it is clear that collaboration, cooperation, and the shared nature of knowledge are pivotal elements in Warnock’s ideas about an online class.

In Chapter 10, Warnock says, “If instead we see knowledge as being created by a community of knowledgeable peers and that learning is social, then peer review makes sense” (115). The ideas that learning is social and that “…writing is not an isolated activity” are valuable, and really intriguing to think about, especially for writing classes, where the model is traditionally of the individual writing in a room of one’s own, detached and isolated from the external world (115). I remember a comment that a writer made at one of his readings: that writers are often on the periphery of social life, and thus are in a better position to write about society and culture. Here, with the online class model that Warnock suggests, students may still be working in their own rooms, but their mode of production is ultimately networked and shared. As Warnock points out, “Technological tools can help us foreground the social aspects of the writing process” (115). Later, in Chapter 14, he quotes Kenneth Bruffee’s idea of knowledge as “the product of human beings in a state of continual negotiation or conversation” that really helps “frame a model of composition teaching that embraced collaboration” (150). I think the phrase “negotiation or conversation” is really interesting when we think about collaboration in a writing class.

With these ideas in mind, I began thinking about collaboration and what that would look like in a writing class. I think the possibilities are immense, and I would love to hear what everyone has to say about shared efforts in writing exercises, and how we would approach grading in such instances.

  • What would collaborative writing assignments look like for both online and offline classes (or a mix of both)?
  • Would collaboration also mean that the students get to edit each other’s works, and what are the implications for authorship if we decide to experiment with this kind of collaborative writing assignment?
  • How would we assess such collaborative efforts? Would we assign letter grades for the group, or credit the group towards a final grade? How would we assess individual efforts in such collaborative efforts? Warnock suggests that “… the underlying philosophy is that it’s good to give many grades in your courses, and the online environment facilitates such grading practices” (95). Considering this philosophy, can we translate “many grades” to credit points, rather than the traditional A or B letter grades, in order to encourage more risk-friendly writing exercises?
  • Warnock points out that, as Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch said of online peer review, “it may require finer distinctions with regard to collaboration, because the textual nature of the activity may raise issues of ownership and authority” (119). Warnock then goes on to say that “this is another reason that [he] prefer[s] a closed CMS environment to an open one” (119). Going back to the idea of the “walled garden” vs “the open wild,” would you agree with Warnock that collaborative assignments are better performed in a closed CMS space, or would it be better to allow students to model and practice collaborative works out there in the open wild? Does the idea of collaboration necessitate that students write in a space beyond the classroom, since the idea is to foster the shared and social nature of knowledge production and learning?

2 comments on “Collaboration and Negotiations

  1. V, it’s funny that you bring up grading/assessment and “credit points” because, in the play/games class (when I think you played hookie), we brought up a composition professor who does his through a video-game-like “levelling up” system. I’m not sure what that would look like–maybe something like this:

    ~933 pts: (A) Master Rhetor
    ~900 pts: (A-) Rhetorician
    ~866 pts: (B+) Suave Politician
    and so on…

    SKILLS throughout the semester
    Major revision of essay… 50 pts
    Mastering nuanced thesis statement… 20 pts
    Invaluable peer review feedback… 20 pts
    and so on…

    Okay, I think this compositionist/gamer geek just wet himself thinking up those things… but you get the gist. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but if it’s one that our students are more and more becoming familiar with, I always feel like we have the responsibility to tend to that in some manner. Now, the question is just how fostering/not such an assessment system is. And I don’t just mean how familiar students are with the levelling-up systems of video gaming specifically; I mean in more general pedagogical terms how effective towards the composition class objectives a points-attainment system can be. We’d have to consider some radical adaptations of the whole class structure and assignments, too, but I think it can be done.

  2. 🙂 I knew I was going to miss some majorly interesting and important points in that class session on games!

    Yes, I think the “levelling up” concept is really interesting, and I love the rubric you’ve posted above. I first heard about “levelling up” in Jane McGonigal’s talk (see her slides here:, where she talks about envisioning a better world through games and learning, and that fostering good learning practices via games can create a world of SEHIs (Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals — hmm, perhaps for 1000 points?). 🙂

    I think that a point/credit system is intriguing to think about, especially after reading Warnock’s philosophy of creating smaller, more interesting, and creative assignments, and giving many grades in the class. It seems like a point system would create greater possibilities and room for improvement for students, especially if they know what level they’re at in the course. I think that grades could be a source of anxiety for students because the big project/essay usually determines the final grade at the end of the semester. I also remember feeling very anxious when I did not receive feedback from a professor throughout the semester. Speaking of feedback/review, I think that the point system and smaller assignments could work well in terms of giving students increased feedback, space for writing drafts and revisions, thus leading to more room for incremental improvement (isn’t that what we want students to be able to do anyway?).

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