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SEED projects 2017 – Writing, Writing Everywhere

Encouraging collaborative writing via Google Docs analytics

Dr Rena Heap

Dr Rena Heap

Ruth Lemon, Andrew Thompson, Dr Rena Heap, Damon Ellis, and Paul Neveldsen (Faculty of Education and Social Work)

The catalyst for this project was the recurring dilemma: how do you encourage collaboration in tertiary teaching, while formatively or summatively assessing students as individuals. The team looked at innovative ways to use analytic plug-in tools to identify individual contributions to collaborative writing. They sought to answer the questions: What can we do to encourage collaboration in writing? How can we generate excitement in collaborative writing? What processes accelerate collaborative writing? How can we use technology to accelerate collaborative writing? How can we use technology to help students examine and reflect on their contributions to collaborative writing?

The project explored the use DocuViz and AuthorViz, technology-based content analysis tools, to identify and visualise the nature and patterns of individual student contributions to collaborative writing activities and assessments. DocuViz and AuthorViz provided a visual timeline of contributions, showing relative volume and the nature of individual contributions (idea generation, refinement, reorganisation, copy-editing) in the shared document. The team found that the tools can misrepresent contributions (e.g., if one student is the group scribe) and can even be gamed (e.g., by copying large portions of text which then ‘belongs’ to the copier, rather than the original author). Their usefulness depends entirely on our use of them and the balances we make as lecturers between the tools we use and the processes we follow with our students.

Working with colleagues in the project resulted in new perspectives and thinking around pedagogy and assessment. The lessons learnt impacted immediately on teaching approach. Our key learning included the need for explicit instruction for our students on the value and nature of effective collaboration; the importance of exploring collaborative roles with students; setting clear expectations for the class in terms of trusting colleagues to participate, contribute, and honestly value each other’s contributions; and the need to find robust ways to incentivise and strengthen student collaboration. These principles were found to be equally as important for our graduate students as for our undergraduate students.