Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Affective Dimension of (Online) Collaborative Writing

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You know there’s something interesting going on when you’ve been thinking of something all day, wondering why you haven’t read about it, until the right “google search term” pops into your head – and suddenly you realize that people have written about it. I’d been thinking all day about what I am not calling the “affective dimension” of collaborative writing. I do a lot of collaborative writing, and there is definitely an affective dimension to it, but for some reason I don’t remember coming across much that others have written about that aspect of things.

There seems to be lots of focus on tools (e.g. google docs, gingko, etc.) or approaches to collaborative editing (such as many of Mike Caufield’s blog posts) – but little on the emotional aspects of it. I guess there are emotional aspects to it whether you’re co-editing face to face or online, but it’s much more of an issue one needs to be mindful of when it’s online because you don’t have the visual cues and tone of voice to discuss why you might be editing someone’s work, deleting it, etc., and a tool like google docs isn’t the “politest” for this kind of thing, though there are other options, such as Penflip). I’m not saying people aren’t thinking of the affective dimension, I am sure they are, just that I have not recently come across discussions of it.

So… my google search returned these interesting articles (skip the next two paragraphs if you want to get to the “meat” of my blog post hehe):

This thesis about the nature and dynamics of collaborative writing, as well as this journal article co-authored by the same person about intra-group conflicts in collaborative writing. And this article, which focuses directly on technology-enabled collaborative writing, but it was written in like 2003/2004, before google docs became popular (if it even existed). I did write a collaborative paper for my master’s degree in 2003, I just think we used track changes back and forth, so not the same thing. I have not looked at these articles yet.

It occurred to me this morning that one of the things Mike Caufield (and I guess some tools like PenFlip, Draftin) advocate is to replace the wiki/google docs (where people totally overwrite someone else’s authored parts, relegating previous versions to be accessible only via versioning) with something that allows “forking” (which I understand to mean (Mike, correct me if I am wrong): different versions of the same doc, but where the original author can choose to incorporate suggested changes) – is really a lot like what “track changes” in MS word does anyway, right?

ANYWAY – Affective dimensions of collaborative writing

  1. It is complicated to have to delete or heavily edit someone else’s work
  2. It creates complicated feelings to have someone else delete, heavily edit, or suggest huge modifications to one’s own work
  3. It is complicated to explain to someone why the above (1 or 2) is happening, and also complicated to work with one’s own feelings about 1 or 2 above
  4. It is a thin line between being constructive and critical – kind of like the way peer review works

I don’t really know where this post is going, except that I want to start thinking and talking about this affective dimension of collaborative writing online. I know something like google docs has a comment feature and a chat option. I’ve used them a lot and they help a lot – but not always enough to cover the depth of emotion that can happen when writing collaboratively.

I’ll come back to this topic but would love to hear about other people’s experiences with collaborative writing

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