Reviewing CCCC 2000: Creative Collaboration and Collaborative Creation: Empowering Student Writing in the Virtual Classroom (N.29)
These folks certainly know how to practice what they preach. All six presenters had time to speak and make their points as they modeled the tenets of the collaborative work that was the focus of their presentation. The speakers worked in a project hosted by Washington State University which brings together students who are at different universities to collaborate on creating a Web site on a particular research project. Communicating entirely by e-mail and chats, groups of three to five students write an introductory page together, individually write a page on a particular section of the topic, and then link them all together. The panel claimed that they are always interested in having new people join the project, which seems like a great way to get students to expand their perspectives, work collaboratively and maximally utilize web technologies. A report of their work on this project can be found in Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments at http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/5.1/features/ruff/bridgenw.html.
Amy Beasly presented Washington State University's Speakeasy Studio, a virtual writing classroom where students can collaborate. Connie Chismar presented student evaluations of the project, and pointed out that most students taking part in the project claimed that they were becoming more conscious of their writing process, learning to integrate information and experience, consider audience, and learning how to participate in a collaborative community.
Shari Mitchell and Nancy Ruff focused on how to prepare students for virtual collaboration. They encourage them to think of computers as they would think of any other writing tool, they ask students to submit writing to one another that projects a strong and engaging persona that other students can interact with, and they make student voices central and give them space to progress from being a bunch of students with different interests into a community of learners. Additionally, they have students constantly evaluate the process of collaboration and regularly include assignments that encourage such evaluation, and they try to get students to see how they will be able to use the collaborative and technological skills they develop in doing this project in life outside of school.
Donna Sephar focused on how teachers might evaluate collaboration and discussed what students learn by participating in the project. She claimed that the Web pages are evaluated on clarity, organization and content, and that in working on the project students gain a better sense of what all of these things are, and why they're important. She pointed out that students really need to think about organization when using hypertext, because it's tough to construct an argument when control is largely in the hands of the reader. In working on their project they need to learn how to distinguish opinion from fact which teaches critical thinking skills and makes them think about where their opinions come from. Lastly she asserted that the project teaches the importance of clarity in writing because the students must learn to write to each other clearly in e-mails and chats for the project to be completed efficiently.
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