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Collaborative authoring and the virtual problem of context in writing courses

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Alan Benson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Myers

Abstract: Since the 1980s, the field of rhetoric and composition has embraced the idea of collaborative writing as a means of generating new knowledge, troubling traditional conceptions of the author, and repositioning power within the student-teacher hierarchy. Authors such as David Bleich, Kenneth Bruffee, and Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede have written about, and advocated for, teachers' engagement with collaboration in the composition classroom. Yet in discussions of collaborative writing, scholars have tended to ignore an important element: the limitations placed upon student agency by the institutional context in which students write. We can ask students to work together in the classroom, but limitations on their choice of collaborators, their time together, and their ability to determine the outcome of their work result in an unproductive simulacrum of collaboration in which students write together but do not engage deeply with each other in the ways scholars describe. Ignoring the fact that classroom collaborative writing is embedded in different fields of power than writing done by scholars working outside institutional limitations results in a conception of collaborative writing as little more than an element of pedagogy, one that can be added to a syllabus without significantly changing the structure, goals, or ideology of the course. Rather than approaching collaborative writing as a means of pushing against the limits of institutional writing, the context in which collaboration takes place is naturalized. As a result, the assessment and disciplinary structures of the academy, the physical division of the student body into class sections, and the tools available to support (or undercut) collaborative work vanish in the scholarship. To counter this trend, I explore how the denial of context and the resulting disconnection between theory (the claims for collaborative writing) and practice (the twenty-first-century composition classroom) promote not collaboration, but a simulacrum of collaboration: academic work that mimics the appearance of true collaboration while failing to enact the liberatory possibility of working with other writers. This project explores collaborative theory on three levels: the personal, in which collaborative writing is illustrated via specific business, public, and academic contexts; the pedagogical, in which current collaborative theory and practice is deployed and analyzed to understand its limitations; and the disciplinary, in which current collaborative theory and practice is questioned, critiqued, and remediated to propose an alternative collaborative classroom praxis. The structure of the dissertation, which uses interchapters to draw connections between larger theoretical issues and my ethnographic research, interviews, and analysis, reflects these three strands as a means of illustrating the interdependence of the personal, pedagogical, and disciplinary conceptions of and engagements with collaborative writing.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
Authoring, Co-authoring, Collaboration, Collaborative authoring, Pedagogy, Writing center
Authorship $x Collaboration $x Study and teaching (Higher)
English language $x Study and teaching (Higher)
Group work in education