In this week’s Wiki Wednesday, guest contributor Eric Detweiler shares some of the ways he uses wiki technology to facilitate collaborative writing and to help students distinguish between stages of the writing process in first-year composition courses.
I’ve been teaching college writing courses for about eight years, and I’ve used a number of digital platforms—wikis included—to organize and facilitate the work that I ask students to do in those courses. For instance, when I taught first-year writing at The University of Texas at Austin, I used a course wiki to coordinate a number of collaborative writing activities. In this post, I detail one such activity. The activity relies on two capacities of wikis: first, that they are designed for collaborative writing; second, that they track a page’s history, archiving past versions as a given page develops and is revised.
This lesson plan provides a way for students to think carefully about the rhetorical choices they make when summarizing a text by collaborating on a trio of summaries created on the course wiki. The lesson plan is also designed to help students learn the difference between drafting, revising, and editing—three stages of the writing process that they and I have already discussed as this lesson plan unfolds.
The following lesson plan was previously published as part of the Digital Writing and Research Lab’s lesson plan library, a collection of digitally oriented lesson plans composed and organized by graduate students teaching undergraduate rhetoric, writing, and literature courses.
I divide students into groups of three. Each group is assigned one chapter from UT’s first-year forum book, a book that’s assigned to students in all sections of first-year writing and that establishes the rhetorical controversies at the course’s center. Recent first-year forum books include Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man, Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and Emily Brady’s Humboldt.
Once chapters are divvied up, each group member is responsible for composing a research summary of their assigned chapter. “Research summaries,” or “RSs,” are one-page summaries of a source’s argument, and are ideally free from the summarizer’s opinion about that argument. I have students compose their RSs as Word documents, then copy and paste them into the body of a wiki page. I also ask them to choose a distinct font color for their wiki-page summaries.
Once each student’s RS is drafted and uploaded, I assign her/his RS to another group member to revise. For instance, if Jaime, Harold, and Terry are a group, Jaime is assigned to revise Terry’s RS, Harold revises Jaime’s, and Terry revises Harold’s. This is where the font colors come into play: I ask each student to make her/his revisions in a different color than the original draft of the RS.
Finally, I reassign the revised RS to the third group member, who is charged with editing (e.g., Terry drafts, Jaime revises Terry’s draft, and Harold edits the revised draft). The editor must use a third color. For instance, Harold might edit in purple to distinguish his edits from Jaime’s green revisions and Terry’s burnt orange original.
Since deletions don’t show up on the surface, I have revisers and editors record any removed phrases, words, punctuation, etc. in their chosen color at the bottom of the page.
The timing on this whole process can differ. It can be assigned as homework, with each stage due on a different day. If you and your students are in a computerized classroom, the entire exercise could unfold during a single class meeting.
After the editing work is done, I have the original drafter look at her/his revised and edited RS. I then let the groups have internal discussions about how they made choices at each stage: Why did Harold choose to quote different lines than Jaime during his drafting process? What led Terry to cut the first line of Harold’s second paragraph? The “page history” feature offered by many wikis allows students to access archived versions of their group’s RSs, and thus to see all the changes the RSs underwent from creation to final edits.
If you want a tangible record of students’ reflections on the activity, have groups take notes on their discussions or reflect in writing. In the past, I’ve posted questions such as these: Where did group members’ original drafts differ? What rhetorical choices did group members make that led to these differences? What differences in opinion were revealed in what group members chose to revise about each other’s RSs, and did any revisions seem especially effective? Broadly speaking, I like these questions to get students thinking about writing—even summary—as a rhetorical process rather than a rote task.
NB: If the number of students in a course isn’t divisible by three, I create some groups of four, but each group member only engages with two other group members’ summaries as reviser/editor.
Suggestions for Instructor Preparation
At the point in the semester when this assignment unfolds, my students are already familiar with the course wiki and the process for creating wiki pages. We have also discussed the differences between drafting, revising, and editing, which I roughly define as the following:
- Drafting: The creation of new written material—getting words on the page for the first time, similar to the rhetorical canon of invention.
- Revising: Working with the words you’ve already composed (moving paragraphs or sentences around, rewriting phrases for clarity, deleting extraneous sentences/paragraphs/pages), which can include some new writing (scrapping and recomposing your introduction, or adding a new sentence at the end of a paragraph to better establish that paragraph’s purpose).
- Editing: Cleaning up/polishing your grammar, spelling, citation, etc. (removing commas, adding in-text citations, changing “th” to “the”).
We’ve also already covered methods of forwarding a source’s argument, particularly the relative merits of summary, paraphrase, and direct quotation.
Interested in more ideas and strategies for using wiki technology in the classroom? Check out all our wiki resources or learn about incorporating the DRC wiki into your classroom. For other ways to use digital tools in the classroom, take a look at our Hack and Yack series.