Calling attention to the social construction and collaborative production of knowledge, wikis have changed the way we think about authorship, the composing process, and the nature of collaboration. This article explores the strengths and limitations of using a wiki to foster what we have termed “deep collaboration,” an iterative, recursive, process-based approach to writing where writers working on group-authored projects engage one another about their writing, from inception to delivery of the document.<ref name="Deep Collaboration">Deep Collaboration is a term we have coined to define and explain the highly iterative, recursive, and reflective interactions we hoped would take place among students involved in group-authored writing projects. Although the term is used here to describe an interactive process of ideation (known to rhetoricians as invention), arrangement, revision, and development that takes place within a writing context, deep collaboration is not limited to describing the interactions among writers involved in a shared writing task. Rather, the term is meant to highlight how ideas come into being and evolve in highly collaborative environments structured to create a singular document or text.</ref> Although this process might take place independent of any particular technology or software, building on the work of Tony Carr, Andrew Morrison, Glenda Cox, and Andrew Deacon (2007), we sought to use a wiki to help make our students' collaborative process “more transparent.” Using the wiki’s ability to preserve multiple revisions (highlighting the addition or subtraction of text and allowing for comparison across different versions), we employed the wiki would provide a “record” of the discussions needed to reach consensus around group-authored texts. By providing a structured environment in which discussions could take place (and be documented), we hoped that the wiki would encourage more frequent and more reflective interactions among students and among students and instructors alike.
Our research team--comprised of instructors and students working in Rhetoric and Composition Studies; Engineering; the Program in Design and Innovation (PDI); Management Information Systems (MIS); Computer Science; Psychology, and Human Computer Interaction--introduced the deep collaboration concept along with a wiki-based collaborative writing task into two communication-intensive courses at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during the Spring term of 2008. The first one was a section of a required, first-year engineering course called Introduction to Engineering Design (IED). The second course, PDI Studio 6, was a junior-level PDI studio course, the sixth in a series of required studio courses, whose topic was design entrepreneurship and business planning. These courses were selected because they already included group-authored final writing projects as part of the required course assignments and because the instructors were willing to experiment with the wiki within the context of their overall course goals.
As a team, we wanted to investigate the following questions. Might wikis help students to better learn about and engage in “deep collaboration,” and particularly recursive, process-based writing? Might collaboration be enhanced by using a wiki, even though all members of the groups were already co-located? Might wikis provide a way to better record and evaluate students’ individual contributions to group work? Insofar as “deep collaboration” was to be achieved, might it improve the overall quality and sophistication of the jointly-authored prose produced? To answer these questions, data was collected from the class wikis, student assignment submissions, student surveys, and student interviews from the Spring 2008 semester. The course instructors also met several times with the rest of the research team to review and discuss the project as it progressed. The analysis and writing up of our findings was carried out through co-located meetings, individual writing, email exchanges, and perhaps most appropriately to the research project, through a wiki.
This wiki-article contains the components of a typical scholarly paper, which can be read linearly. However, we have also attempted to structure the document in a way that allows jumping around while still communicating each section's main points. Across the article, we seek to communicate:
- the wiki project’s aims and the larger research agenda it grows out of;
- the project's local context, assignment design, and in-class implementation; and, finally,
- our assessment of the strengths and limitations of the study as a whole as well as the specific assignments based on student responses, our experiences, and the overall quality of the work they produced.
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Continue reading the Background section.