What if you could browse through the writing of all Graduate Center students — in every discipline and at every stage — in order to better know your community, reach out to new peers, and discover role models and support for shaping your academic identity and activities? What if such a network was available not only to Graduate Center students, but to those interested as potential students or simply curious citizens, thus making the intellectual labor of students of greater use to the general public? What if we, as students, not only created the technology to support such a network, but also developed a nurturing culture in which students were eager — not afraid — to share in-progress work and feedback as collaborators in our community’s intellectual growth?
Though it isn’t news to most, studies show that many graduate students suffer from depression and anxiety due to the isolating, competitive, and alienating conditions of graduate school. For far too long, the practices of student writing have reinforced these conditions by creating a culture of secrecy around the messy process of writing and relying too heavily on the expertise, care, and attention of a single professor. While expert feedback can play an important role in intellectual growth, this hierarchical system of learning denies students the opportunity to generate and engage an authentic public, thus divorcing the act of writing from a sense of having real impact in the world. On one hand this devastates the students’ rhetorical ability, for it inhibits the vital conditions that stimulate communication skills, aspirations, and sensitivities. But its larger and unnoticed effect, that is experiencing language as a product for evaluation — a sort of a device by which institutions surveil and measure the minds of students — rather than as a force for change in the world, is a political tragedy. Finally, as is well known by both students and educators, the conditions of educational labor make attentive, personally-engaged feedback the rare luxury of a lucky few, if not almost structurally impossible.
Our technologies for producing and submitting writing — whether word processors and email or course blogs and Google Docs — continue to centralize the activity of student writing and collaboration around professors and courses rather than around a true, peer-to-peer, student-centered collaborative network. And so, in the hopes of developing a more convivial, inclusive, and collaborative student community, we’ve developed Social Paper, a socialized writing environment where Graduate Center students can compose, manage, and archive all of their writing across courses and terms within a single digital work space. Instead of scattering academic writing across a variety of course sites and files, Social Paper allows students to easily set permissions for each individual piece of writing, allowing papers to be shared with a class, a professor, select peers, or the public at large. Social Paper provides a durable space not only for the student to archive and reflect upon their academic writing, but also for the student community to browse and engage with the work of their peers across courses, disciplines, and familiar communities. Additionally, Social Paper uses activity feeds and notifications to promote student writing and student comments among a network of peers; likewise students may choose to associate their papers with categories and topics to make them easily discoverable or showcase them on their public archive. Unlike siloed or ephemeral course sites, Social Paper transforms every writing assignment into the opportunity to build community both within and beyond the class.
Cultural change does not happen overnight nor does technological perfection. But if you are interested in helping build the tools and culture of a more collaborative community around student writing, we encourage you to try Social Paper to share writing with a class, writing group, or even a single trusted peer. We are actively looking for student and professor collaborators to provide feedback and help develop Social Paper for the CUNY community. If interested, please email student director Erin Glass at erin (dot) glass (at) gmail (dot) com.
Read how Social Paper is more student-centered than other digital platforms used for teaching.
Learn how to easily set up Social Paper for your class or research group.
Browse papers at the Social Paper hub.
Or start writing!