C&W 2019 Friday Keynote: “Researching Collaboratively: Teachers, Teams, and Technology”

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C&W 2019’s Friday Keynote

Joy Robinson’s Friday keynote at Computers & Writing reminds us not only of the opportunities for collaboration afforded by digital tools but also of the importance of collaboration in writing studies. The word “collaboration” is often fraught with notions of disproportionate work and uncomfortable group dynamics, but a cursory search of a concept in a university library database shows that scholars do collaborate and produce stellar work in the process. In particular, Robinson reminds us, researchers are collaborating more in the digital age, yet the humanities–and writing studies–still sees far less co-authoring than its STEM counterparts. Robinson also rightly notes that while we often require our students to collaborate on projects, we do not model for them what this collaboration should look like. If we want our students to participate in more collaborative research (and if we want them to be more open to it in the first place), should we not open up writing studies research to the same? Should we not be the ones to provide a framework for collaboration? Robinson’s keynote offers a compelling argument for thinking about collaborative work with technology in the classroom and in our field more broadly.

Robinson, an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama Huntsville, begins her talk about collaboration with a story about crowdsourcing. She shares her experience using Waze, a traffic app, while visiting Atlanta; Robinson notes that the app informed her about a jammed road because of the crowdsourcing efforts of other users. Her experience evinces the power of technology in bringing together minds to solve a problem–an important concept that comprises part of the digitally-focused pedagogical plan she introduces later on in the keynote. But more importantly, this story suggests that collaboration, when given the right tools and contexts, can shape knowledge in meaningful ways. Robinson also shares key insights from an article on which she and other researchers collaborated pertaining to how teachers use digital resources; Robinson and her colleagues consider what teachers do when using these resources in the classroom, as well as for how long. For teachers looking to use digital tools in the classroom, some of the key takeaways here include the ephemeral nature of technology as it constantly updates and replaces itself, the role of familiarity in selecting resources, and the role of familiarity in limiting innovation. And for teachers looking to leverage such tools for collaboration, these takeaways offer important considerations for how collaboration might be modeled in the classroom.

The highlight of Robinson’s presentation is her framework for a digitally-focused pedagogical plan (DPP). As Robinson points out, we do not have an overarching plan for how to use computers and other technologies in our teaching; the DPP, then, offers a means to usefully incorporate technology into our pedagogies–and to do so collaboratively with our students. Robinson delineates the DPP through the user-experience (UX) approach, which emphasizes usefulness and usability: (1) discover the issue, (2) decide the methods to address it, (3) make or create a solution, and (4) validate the solution. Using NCTE’s 8 Habits of Mind, Robinson demonstrates how teachers might incorporate the concept of flexibility in their classrooms; if the issue is how to instill flexibility, Robinson explains, then teachers might make a decision about to collect assignments, create a solution that opens discussion about flexibility, and then validate this solution by disseminating a survey to see what students think about this approach to flexibility. What I find most engaging about this framework is that students are directly involved in the decision-making process rather than passive recipients of it. Robinson’s model also creates space for modelling collaboration to students in a way that gives them a stake and helps them to see how their contribution shapes the outcomes of a decision or a project.

As a writing instructor, I often struggle with teaching my students the importance of collaboration, and Robinson’s keynote strikes me as an opportunity to begin showing our students–and, indeed, other scholars in our field–rather than simply telling. Robinson’s DPP framework is a useful toolkit for instructors looking to use technology in the classroom, but more than that, it is a critical reminder for instructors to be informed about the technologies they choose and how it will impact students, who are their greatest collaborators in learning. As a fledgling researcher, I find Robinson’s application to academia writ large inspiring; it goes without saying that there is rhetorical power in numbers, but as technology continues to mediate our writing and publishing (which can further streamline or create challenges for how we collaborate), we might consider developing our own digitally-focused plans, inspired by Robinson’s framework, for making collaborative research as inclusive and effective as possible.

About Author(s)

Jathan Day is a PhD candidate in the Joint Program in English and Education at the University of Michigan.

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