Assigning team writing projects is a great way to engage students in course content and increase learning. To help students reach their full potential, avoid project designs that can get in the way.

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In essays from 295 students in my college writing courses over the last four years, students have written about positive and negative experiences they’ve had while working in collaborative writing teams prior to and during our semester together. Their insights have guided many an assignment redesign in my courses and culminated in the following list of mistakes to avoid when assigning team writing projects. …

Joe Moses and Jason Tham

According to the World Economic Forum, “talents like empathy, adaptability, and a knack for communicating your ideas” are skills companies need:

As companies grapple with digitization, automation, and constant change, creating a culture where people can communicate their ideas is crucial to competitiveness. So are collaboration and creative thinking (World Economic Forum).

To meet demand for workplace skills, we have signed with Parlor Press to publish three books on collaborative writing, due out in 2020–21:

Collaborative Writing Playbook: An Instructor’s Guide to Designing Writing Projects for Student Teams

Writing to Learn in Teams: A Collaborative…

How to overcome slanxiety in every collaborative writing project

Joe Moses and Jason Tham

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Photo by Ash from Modern Afflatus on Unsplash

It happens every time: during collaborative writing projects someone inevitably raises a concern about someone else who is slacking.

“They’re not pulling their weight.”

“They’re always late.”

“I’m worried about X not getting their work done and I’m going to have to do more than my fair share to make up for them.”

It’s so disheartening. No matter how much we talk about the importance of teams communicating early and often, the worries arise and now we, as instructors or supervisors, have to act.

That’s when we dig in to find out what’s going on…

Jason Tham and Joe Moses

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Whether you’re interested in a freelance or a full-time writing position, knowing how design thinking works will make you a more valuable applicant than competitors who only pitch their writing skills or content specialty.

Why? Because hiring managers want problem solvers. We’ve been to countless professional panels at which speakers who say the number-one skill they’re looking for in technical writers and marketing copywriters — after writing ability, of course — is the ability to solve problems. …

Joe Moses and Jason Tham

Is anything worse than team writing projects that sound like this?

Students

Where are we?
I thought you were doing that.
You spent three hours? That section is already done.
Where’s Alex?
Where’s Taylor’s feedback?
Where’s Pat’s research?
What happened to my beautiful paragraph?
Why are we doing this?
When will it be over?

We’ve asked students who don’t like team projects why they don’t like team projects, and they say they hate when other team members don’t do their share of the work, when they miss deadlines, or when they simply disappear.

What’s worse than writing in teams?

Since we’ve been testing collaborative writing (CW)…

By Jason Tham and Joe Moses

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In our previous articles, we described a framework for collaborative writing that confronts the traditional writing process, focuses on cross-functional engagement, and creates specific roles and tasks that support effective collaboration. We continue this series by sharing in this entry a philosophy of thinking in teams that we adopt in our collaborative writing framework.

Our approach to collaboration is inspired by a human-centered creative problem-solving methodology known as design thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

Great question. We love this concise definition by Nate Balwin on Medium:

“Design thinking is a fluid, research and data-driven approach to identifying a…

Joe Moses and Jason Tham

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Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

We know that assigning roles in team project is effective. People who research collaborative writing (CW) have said for a long time that assigning specific roles and tasks to teammates makes teams more productive because doing so eliminates the time, effort, and confusion that follow when we ask student teams to work out roles or tasks for themselves.

Unfortunately, a sizable chunk of the scholarship suggests assigning roles and tasks based on small-group facilitation practices. There should be a time keeper, a note taker, and a facilitator to keep teams on task, for example. …

Joe Moses and Jason Tham

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Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

We recently posted a piece whose upshot was that instructors should stop using a writing process designed for individual writers when assigning collaborative writing projects.

Collaborative writing (CW) is so different from individual writing that, in addition to the writing process, the environment in which CW takes place should be redesigned, too. By environment we mean more than how you arrange the furniture, although enabling teammates to sit together is always a good idea.

An environment for collaborative writing should

1. Encourage collaboration inside and outside of class.

2. Enable students to share ideas very easily (transparency),

3. Accommodate frequent discussions…

Joe Moses and Jason Tham

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Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

It’s no wonder so many students don’t like team writing. Often given little instruction in how to write collaboratively, students are left with little more direction than wherever their anxieties point them. Students report feelings of anxiety about measuring up. They worry about losing track of what teammates are doing. They fear that teammates’ words won’t all “flow” together in the end.

For instructors, the prospect of assigning collaborative writing raises fears of having to spend hours devising roles and tasks so teams distribute workloads evenly. But collaborative writing can be so effective, students can…

Joe Moses

Senior Lecturer, Writing Studies, University of Minnesota. Collaborative writer.

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