Education Opinion

Group Writing Online

By Emmet Rosenfeld — December 09, 2007 3 min read
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“We’re No. One” wrote my editor on the Teacher homepage last week, in the little blurb designed to drive hordes of readers to my blog. If you ignore the period, he serendipitously transcribed the actual title (“We’re #1") into a reminder that it’s not all about the test scores, stupid.

Sure, some guy who likes to talk turkey got irate on the comment board, but the general response to last week’s post about TJ’s shiny prize was underwhelming. As it should have been, to be honest. Any educator worth his salt is true to his school, recognizing that the alchemy of faculty and students in their own building on any given day has its own inestimable value, not to be determined by external yardsticks (dismount soapbox).

Anthony and I didn’t set out to create an ironic headline-- okay, he doesn’t even know I’m writing this and he corrected the typo when I pointed it out-- but it goes to show that in writing, interesting things can happen when more than one set of fingers is clacking away at the keyboard. I am exploring that potential a little more intentionally in my class these days by asking students to put their heads together on a couple group writing assignments using two different collaborative writing tools.

Tenth graders are authoring research papers on influential figures from one of four historic time periods in groups of two-three kids using google docs, a web-based word-processing program similar to the ubiquitous MS Word but with useful additions like saving your work automatically every few seconds and allowing up to ten people at time to write together on the same screen.

Ninth graders are reviewing scientific literature for water quality projects in groups of four kids using a wiki-builder on blackboard, an online learning system used by our district and many others that allows teachers to post assignments, host chat, and conduct other activities to extend the class beyond school walls in a secure environment.

Whether or not you’ll keep reading at this point may depend on where you fall on the curve between old school and 21st century. Pen and paper troglodytes, don’t run away-- take this as a fellow idiot’s guide, or at least water wings, with which to wade into the digital world in which our kids swim. Those who already teach by avatar may find value in my cavewall scribblings insofar as the impromptu experiment offers a chance to talk about the virtual teaching of writing.

Still here? Great. Wish I was, too. But as I write this post (on google docs, by the way, without my thumb drive), I’m in New York city for the weekend and haven’t yet read enough of the work my students have posted on either google docs or blackboard to tell you how it’s going. Actually, this is the perfect chance to test things out: I’m far from home but the kids’ writing is just a mouse click away. Unfortunately, despite its amazingness, this internet still doesn’t put more hours in the day.

So, instead of virtual workshopping, in a little while I’ll head downtown with the boys for playtime in the park and then on to a Chanukkah party at my twin bro’s in Chelsea. Y’all come back for the next few posts, in which I promise to report on how the group online writing assignments are going.

Also, for the record, I want to examine how certain “documented accomplishments” I wrote about in my ill-fated Entry 4 have in fact propelled me rather directly into exploring these online writing tools. With any luck, I can connect the dots between those accomplishments and whatever writing actually emerges at the other end to find clear and convincing evidence of student achievement. (Extra credit to any readers who can identify five or more National Board buzzwords in this paragraph.)

The opinions expressed in Eduholic are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.