How to Work Collaboratively

I’m currently teaching professional writing, and I’m very thankful to have these ProfHacker posts about collaboration to share with my students. Although a single-authored document is a very common assignment in most college courses, documents that have been collaboratively authored are much more likely to be created in a work environment.

We all know how difficult writing can be if we are working by ourselves. However, if we work together, perhaps the work isn’t quite as difficult.

Social medial tools like Facebook and Twitter can help get you through your to-do list, instead of distracting you from it. Here’s a simple strategy for breaking out of procrastination.

Online Tools For Collaboration,” by George H. Williams
Collaborating with others on large and ongoing projects can be tricky, but it’s much easier if you use a few online tools wisely.

E-mail Is Not a Tool for Revision,” by Jason B. Jones
Using an online writing environment–such as GoogleDocs or a wiki–makes collaboration easier and side steps the problems that can arise when several authors are e-mailing each other different drafts of the same document

If you and your collaborators need to make significant progress on a document in a short period of time, here’s one way to do it.

Use GoogleDocs for Crowd-Sourced Notes,” by George H. Williams
When several different people are taking notes about the same topic, using a shared online document is an effective way to keep track of all of the different contributions.

This new, Windows-only plug-in from Google Docs allows you to share, back up, and edit simultaneously with others who are also using the plug-in with Office or who are using Google Docs in the cloud.

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Christopher Schmidt]

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“Memoir in a Digital Age”

If you were to lead a workshop like this one, what genre of (hardware or software) tools would you teach?

Ground rules:

  1. Tools must be affordable or (preferably) free.
  2. Tools must not require advanced computing skills: knowing how to use a word processor and knowing how to use a web browser should be enough.
  3. Tools would preferably already be owned by workshop participants.

Memoir in a Digital Age
Learn to document and reflect upon your life through the use of various simple and affordable (or free!) digital tools and media. Participants will work with their choice of text, image, sound, and video to create a memoir appropriate for the digital age in which we live. No advanced computing skills required.

George H. Williams is a teacher, scholar, volunteer, would-be hacker, indie enthusiast, nonprofit advocate, word herder, and world traveler.

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freewriting in my 102 class

Two servings of English 102 (Composition and Literature) are on my plate this semester. I’ll probably write more about this class as the semester goes on, but I thought I’d blog a bit about today, the second meeting of my Tuesday-Thursday section. I’m having students turn in an essay next week, and this seems pretty soon to both them and me. But I want them to get used to writing before they think they’re ready to write. We are all too susceptible to thinking that writing is only supposed to take place when we’re inspired, when we’re comfortable, when we’re ready. I assigned some readings to that effect for today, readings designed to get them to think about writing as a sloppy process with many steps and many loops back to earlier points in the process. And there’s nothing magical about it. Someone tells you to write and you start writing. Big deal.

Yes, yes, their sleepy eyes and half-hearted nods seemed to say. We know this already. Of course.

Okay, then, here’s your assignment:

Paper 1: Personal Essay (taken from page 27 of Writing and Community Action)
“…question yourself and articulate what you believe…” (Deans 27)
Due Date: Tuesday, January 23
Length: 500 words, minimum
Value: 10% of your final grade
Description: For this essay, select one of the following:

  • A turning point in your ethical development.
  • A meaningful event that you experienced while involved in community service.

Although you should keep the focus on your personal experience, the essay should speak to what readers can discover from your rendering of personal experience. The essay should be based on autographical narrative, develop a central tension and turn, and make use of literary devices such as description, setting, character, and figurative language.

Okay, okay.

Do you have any questions? Do you understand what it’s asking you to do?

Yeah, sureOkay, take out a piece of paper. I want you to freewrite for ten minutes.

What?! About what?

About what the assignment is asking you to write about.

But…but I’m not ready!

What did we just spend all that time talking about?

But I don’t understand the assignment!

I just asked you if you had any questions and you said no. Now stop delaying and just start writing.

It was an instructive experience. We think we’re being smart by talk talk talking about all of this stuff about writing. And the students know to look interested and to nod at the appropriate places. But when the rubber hits the road, it’s extremely hard to shake off the associations we have with writing.

Anyway, I did some freewriting along with them. Then I emailed it to them, like so:

Well, here’s what I wrote today. I think we all know what kind of first draft Annie Lamott would call this. Feel free to give me some feedback that would help me revise this into something better I’ll bring in a revision on Tuesday:

I began to think differently about people with disabilities when my knee began to hurt last week. What surprised me was how angry I felt—at my leg (I guess), at the other people I thought were staring at me, and at people who tried to hurry me to walk more quickly than I felt comfortable doing. It wasn’t anything dramatic. One day I was walking into the grocery store and my left knee suddenly felt like someone had jabbed a steak knife in from the side. It hurt so much that I had to sit down right in the middle of the parking lot. I’m not an athlete, and I hadn’t been doing anything to injure myself. I guess I’m just getting old. It wasn’t my fault.

It had never occurred to me that people with disabilities might feel extremely self-conscious. But as I write that it seems like a stupid thing to say. It had never occurred to me that someone could be angry at their body for breaking down, for malfunctioning. But thinking about my own reaction—and imagining that others might have the same reaction—has sort of pushed me to try to remember to be more patient with others. Well, I’m not that impatient to begin with, so that’s not quite right.

Any time I experience something painful or awkward or difficult, I try to reflect on what the experience might teach me about others who also experience those things. Otherwise, it’s just an unhappy time in life. Empathy is what I’m after. If all we do is stay within our own comfort zones, then we’re not likely to become anything greater than we are now.


Feel free, fearless blog reader, to give me your own feedback on this “shitty first draft.”

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humor me

Maybe I’m mistaken, but I believe I had more readers on my old blog. Twice as many subscribed via Bloglines to the old one than subscribe to this one, for example. So…I’d like your feedback, dear reader. Those of you who do not typically leave comments are especially encouraged to participate in the following survey.

Readership, the past, and the future.

1. What do you know about my blogging past, and why do you read my blog?

I found WorkBook, but I have no idea what previous blog you wrote.
I used to read your previous blog, and that led me to this blog.

2. The nature of this blog

This blog is much more personal than the previous blog, and I like that.
This blog is much more personal than the previous blog, and I don’t like that.
This blog is much more personal than the previous blog, and I have no opinion about that.
This blog is pretty much the same as the previous blog, and I like that.
This blog is pretty much the same as the previous blog, and I don’t like that.
This blog is pretty much the same as the previous blog, and I have no opinion about that.

3. The future of this blog

You should write more about higher education, the profession.
You should write more about your teaching.
You should write more about your research.
You should write more about current events.
You should continue to write as much personal stuff as you currently do.
You should write less personal stuff than you currently do.

4. I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to “Junebug versus Hurricane,” after a Lucinda Williams lyric.

Um…no. Keep “WorkBook.”
Sure, why not? It’s your blog.
You could choose something more interesting than WorkBook, but not “Junebug versus Hurricane.”

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