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Other Important Concepts

In addition to the core concepts of rhetoric, process, and multimodality, WCP courses prioritize collaboration, digital pedagogy and technology, and reflection.

Collaboration

Collaboration is widespread in the classroom, community, and workplace. Regardless of collaboration’s purpose or nature, it generally has these common elements: two or more people cooperatively completing some agreed-on task and a specific goal or product to be accomplished over time. Physical proximity is not a necessity; in fact, computer-mediated communication makes long-distance collaboration commonplace. Unfortunately, collaborative behaviors are not intuitive nor are they consistent from culture to culture. Collaborative behaviors can be learned…and, thus, in our classes, we teach them, model them, discuss them, reflect on them. Understanding more about the nature of collaboration, the types of conflict that often occur during a collaborative project, and some strategies that help group members deal with these conflicts is a good beginning. Simply understanding these concepts is not enough, however. In order for our students become good collaborators, we need to help them put knowledge into practice by participating in collaborative interactions and then reflecting on these interactions.

Being effective collaborators and/or team leaders requires a number of common-sense behaviors. Learning, practicing, and reflecting on these behaviors help students become effective collaborators:

  • Be engaged, cooperative, and courteous—even when annoyed or frustrated.
  • Consider cultural differences and be responsive and respectful.
  • Encourage productive processes such as active listening (e.g., acknowledging, rephrasing, clarifying, elaborating).
  • Conform to conversation conventions (e.g., turn taking, backchannel remarks).
  • Pose questions (both direct and indirect) that ask for articulation of goals, clarification, elaboration, and resolution of contradictions.
  • Share information and ask for additional information as needed.
  • Know the affordances of the technology and use it effectively.
  • Reflect about individual and collaborative behaviors.

Students need particular help managing problems and negotiating the three kinds of conflicts—affective, procedural, and substantive—that arise:

  • Affective conflicts involve attitudes, biases, personality, and values that shape interpersonal communication and influence ways collaborators work together. Affective conflicts arise because of strongly held beliefs about factors such as religion, politics, ethics, gender, or race. Collaborators should acknowledge their own biases and prejudices and then make a special effort to not be negatively influenced by them. They should also respond to differences and changes in footing during collaboration. (NB: Footing, a term used by cultural anthropologists, describes underlying assumptions people make about a situation.)
  • Procedural conflicts involve the task itself. Collaborators need to discuss the ways group sessions will run—that is, the procedures that govern the group’s operation. Many experienced collaborators begin their work by agreeing on several concerns: meeting details (locations, times), roles and responsibilities, scheduling and deadlines, ways to make decisions, and ways to manage conflict. Inattention to or short circuiting of procedural concerns quite predictably spills into affective conflicts and reduces the effectiveness of the collaboration.
  • Substantive conflicts deal with the substance of a document or presentation or design—decisions about things such as content, purpose, audience, conventions of organization and support, and conventions of language and design. Collaborators who do not explore and eventually agree about these substantive concerns run the risk of producing unfocused, poorly designed documents that don’t respond to the needs or interests of any particular audience. Voicing—even encouraging—alternative perspectives as a way of leading to consensus usually leads to a healthier process and a better product.
Optional: Read Chapter 7 in WOVENText for more information about collaboration.

Digital Pedagogy and Technology

Our emphasis on multimodality comes a corresponding attention to digital pedagogy and technology. We concur with Hybrid Pedagogy that digital pedagogy “is as much about using digital tools thoughtfully as it is about deciding when not to use digital tools and about paying attention to the impact of digital tools on learning.” Technology is a tool, a process, and a subject for analysis.

Teaching in the Writing and Communication Program offers an opportunity to expand your pedagogical strategies, using the affordances of digital resources to accomplish your outcomes. Possibilities? Consider using technology in several ways beyond the required LMS:

  • Modes of engagement—e.g., Twitter, discussion boards, chats
  • Parts of your instruction—e.g., videos, Skype and/or Hangout sessions
  • Parts of assignments—e.g., to make maps, comic books, videos; to use digital humanities tools
  • Topics for analysis—e.g., news feeds, multiple versions of a narrative, cultural practices
  • Vehicles for class sharing and collaboration—e.g., Google Docs
  • Class-facing or public-facing dissemination—e.g., wikis, blogs

Ask yourself about the pedagogical advantages of these technologies. What do they enable students to learn and do? Because every student has a laptop, students can always be “connected”—every classroom is a computer classroom. Consider what this individualized resource enables you to do in your classroom and ways students can strengthen their learning.

Optional: Browse some of the teaching posts in TechStyle to get a sense of the possibilities for digital pedagogy in your course.

Reflection

Reflection is an integral part of your course because it’s precisely when learners reflect on a particular concept or process that they learn. Plan on having students reflect on their work and process throughout the semester, formally (that is, through submitted, perhaps even graded, reflections) or informally (that is, through ungraded journal entries written—though saved—on a piece of paper). Consider former BF Anna Ioanes’ statement on her syllabus:

Each assignment will be followed by a one-page reflection in which you discuss ideas you sought to articulate in the project and the communication strategies you used to do so. The reflections are due one week after the project deadline and should be submitted via Canvas before class on the due day. The artifact reflections should follow the requirements outlined in the final portfolio assignment.

Instructors teaching ENGL 1101/1102 have students complete a reflective portfolio at the end of the semester.

Optional: Read “Why Are Self-Reflection & Self-Assessment about Communication Processes & Artifacts Important?” in WOVENText to learn more about reflection in our courses.