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FAQ: What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration in Basic Writing courses?

By members of Karen Uehling’s graduate class at Boise State University: Fall 2006

  • Mike Peterson
  • Melissa Keith
  • Joy Palmer
  • Bill Schnupp

This is only the beginning

As with most research, we ended up with more questions than answers. This page was created as part of a graduate seminar at Boise State University called “The Theory and Teaching of Basic Writing.” Our group, consisting of four graduate students, chose to tackle the idea of collaboration. It was obvious from our own academic experience that collaboration had pedagogical value, but we wanted to know specifically if it had the same value in basic writing. What we have found is that, yes, it does have value, but that it also comes with its own set of challenges and issues—some of which are unique to the basic writing classroom.

What follows is our attempt to address those challenges and issues—not as a means to dissuade teachers from incorporating collaborative activities and assignments in their basic writing classrooms, but so they can better anticipate the obstacles and use collaboration to its full potential.

An invitation to contribute

Collaboration, we have found, can mean so many things. We use it as an umbrella term that refers to any social activity in the classroom that gets the individual student away from writing by herself and interacting with other students, with the intent of creating and learning. Collaboration often refers to but is not limited to learning communities, cooperative learning, peer workshops, and teacher/student responses. One thing all these branches share is the idea of active learning through social interaction.

For our purposes, we refer to collaboration as those activities and assignments that get students working together: online discussions, workshops, peer responses, in-class activities, and writing projects. While we may touch briefly upon learning communities and cooperative learning, that is not our focus, and we leave an open invitation to other scholars who would like to expand this conversation and address those concepts. See the guidelines for Using the CompFAQs Wiki to learn about the ways you can contribute to this FAQ.

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