Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Notes from Annoying Yellow

The Google Docs experience incited that techno-skeptical part of me that disagrees with the belief that online spaces actually decenter the classroom. I am still not convinced that face-to-face (or atleast real-time phone or chatting) interaction can be divorced from digital space interaction when working on a joint document. Synchronous chat is one thing—I don’t think anyone is ever trying to get anything cohesively created with synchronous chats. Without one common agreement on where a thesis is going, I think the writing will remain fragments until (eventually) the ideas meld together through active editors in the text. In many ways, I think this format forces one person to become an editor (as Shawn mentioned in class). Look, I think it is possible to make a cohesive paper through Google docs without meeting with the other collaborators; but I think it will take a whole lot longer if the group doesn’t hash out the motives over the paper over coffee.

I feel like some old dogmatic comp teacher here, but I just can feel the frustration with the lack of focus. It seems contradictory to work towards an argument and yet not spend time planning with a group of voices. I don’t mean to say that multiple voices won’t be apparent in the document, but having a document written by as many as 12 people requires some serious face time before it become somewhat cohesive.

On the flip side, I had fun writing a paragraph with Shawn when it was just him and me. He wrote a sentence; I wrote a sentence in reply; he wrote in reply to me; etc. And, oddly enough, it read like a cohesive paragraph. And small groups (2-3 people), if they worked slow or not simultaneously, could put together a very cool collaborative document. However, I am still skeptical of collaboration w/o f2f.

Also, as long as I am sounding like a old codger, my opinion is that Google docs is most helpful as a revision tool. Collaborating with others to write a document requires much more social interaction; but when someone posts a draft on Google docs, it becomes a great forum for outside editors to revise and add to the document. This type of revision is a type of collaborating towards a document, yet it deals more with established text instead of the pre-writing process. For the pre-writing process, I would recommend using other social tools in cyberspace (a/synchronous chats, etc.)

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