Digital Writing Month, Week One: Collaborative Writing and Editing with Google Docs

A few years ago, the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy announced a project to make November “Digital Writing Month,” a thirty-day challenge to explore the promises and potentialities of “digital” writing. According to Sean Michael Morris,

The event is designed to give writers from all over the world the opportunity to experiment and play with, and explore digital writing. We begin with the premise that digital writing is essentially different from traditional writing — especially in that it is not always text. “Digital writing is emergent writing. It mutinies at the imposition of form, the edicts of the grammars of old. It rails to change the rules. It raises the flag of anarchy.” As such, invention is the singularly most important ingredient for a rambunctious DigiWriMo project… invention, ambition, and fearlessness. The point is creation; the method to the madness is up to you.

For a couple of years, the event was structured around an online community (hashtag #DigiWriMo) with weekly prompts, twitter chats, and activities designed to help people set goals and commit to mutual support in meeting those goals. The 2015 announcement observed that

DigiWriMo can be about motivating ourselves to simply write more, blog more often, finish that book, revamp that website; it can be about starting new projects: launch that podcast, create a new Twitter hashtag; it can be about questioning our notions of writing and voice and their place on our lives; or it can be about trying new things – experimenting with different art forms – doing old things in new ways. It’s about pushing boundaries and tiptoeing beyond comfort zones – mixing it up, remixing – doing whatever feels or seems right to you at this time in your life.

The Hybrid Pedagogy editors have decided to step back from the project this year, but many folks are continuing with the idea on their own, in a kind of self organizing movement. So, this month Austin College digital pedagogy is taking up the challenge with a series of workshops on topics and issue in digital writing. This week we’ll start with some basics. Our session, “Collaborative Writing and Editing with Google Docs,” will explore uses of Google Docs for both personal composition and for group authoring and editing projects. Even if you’re already a user of Google Docs, chances are that there are features that you haven’t discovered that might be worth learning about. And we’ll be particularly focused on how you might use Google Docs for class assignments and exercises.

In his essay, “Co-Writing, Peer Editing, and Publishing in the Cloud” (part of the collection Web Writing. Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning), Jack Dougherty of Trinity College describes his discovery of Google Docs as a pedagogical tool:

Long before the web, innovative faculty began teaching collaborative writing techniques as a challenge to the tradition of solitary authoring. The transition from typewriters to word processors made this technique easier to teach, as students could independently author text and assign one team member to merge it into one document, or collaborate on writing one document by passing it back and forth….

But the writing tool that dropped my jaw—and reawakened the pedagogical side of my brain— was Google Documents, which enabled multiple users to edit the same web document and view collaborators as they typed changes in real time, in contrast to the delayed view of editing in wikis. Looking back to May of 2009, I originally understood that users could upload and share files on Google Docs but did not fully grasp its multi-authoring features until 2010 at my first THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), where session organizers shared links to Google Documents for multiple participants to simultaneously share notes…

Five years after the public release of Google Docs, educators continue to invent new ways of incorporating this writing tool into their liberal arts classrooms, building on a shared sense of community to enhance learning. Some focus on creating one collaborative document by multiple authors, such as when two or more people co-write an essay or pool together their notes. Others use Google Docs to highlight variations of the same text by different authors, such as Brandon Walsh’s “Writing Out Loud” activity. While writers usually try out alternate versions of a sentence in the privacy of our own minds or our notebooks, Walsh models how to make this editing process more visible and tangible for the entire class.

So if you are interested in learning more about Google Docs, join us this week for conversation and demonstration–Tuesday at 4:30 pm or Friday at 1:30 in Abell 102.

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