For CUNY professors

Why a networked, collaborative commons is important for student writing

Conventional tools and practices for producing and submitting student writing often limit its audience to that 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.

Though the importance of peer collaboration has long been apparent in the practice of student writing, the rising popularity of new “social” communication tools has led to a renaissance, if not an entirely new phase, of peer-to-peer pedagogy. Educators across disciplines report that forms of peer-facing, networked writing results in “students writing more and writing better,” facilitates “thinking by writing,” engages the “support from a relevant community,” enhances “critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” and helps students build “a broader range of skills pertinent to academic research” (Chong 2010). Through the brave and experimental efforts of students and educators, we have come to feel the great promise that the collaborative, the social, and thepublichold for our intellectual engagements. However, despite these great advances in peer collaboration, our reliance on popular, proprietary technologies denies us the ability to design tools sensitive to academic and democratic needs and values. This passive relationship towards our communication technology further obscures our perception of its connection to knowledge production and leaves us vulnerable to technological obsolescence and incompatibility which continues to needlessly embitter the perception of technology for so many.

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.

Works cited

Chong, Eddy K.M. (2010). Using blogging to enhance the initiation of students into academic research. Computers & Education, 55(2), 798-807.