Collaborative Writing – The Final Frontier

By Lynette Kirschner

If you want to go where no man has gone before, why not try your hand at col­lab­o­ra­tive writ­ing? The idea is sim­ple: Com­bine var­i­ous types of writ­ing in an elec­tive course with a deep under­stand­ing of a spe­cif­ic the­o­ry. The sem­i­nar, “Where no man has gone before: Women and Sci­ence Fic­tion,” was my attempt to have stu­dents not only apply var­i­ous forms of writ­ing but also gain a deep­er knowl­edge of inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty using social sci­ence fic­tion – with a dose of cre­ativ­i­ty. Just look at these stu­dent-pro­duced project covers!

In the first half of the class, I famil­iar­ized stu­dents with social sci­ence fic­tion that looks at how tech­nol­o­gy or alien encoun­ters affect our cul­ture, social struc­ture, and future soci­ety. Sci­ence fic­tion writ­ing reflects cur­rent fears and hopes of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety. To get stu­dents think­ing along these lines, I asked them to write down soci­etal top­ics they are inter­est­ed in and feel will change. We found these themes in sto­ries and movies in this genre.

To pre­pare for the writ­ten assign­ment, we also looked at reg­is­ter and tone in blogs, both pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al, as well as aca­d­e­m­ic texts, jour­nals, and news­pa­pers. Stu­dents reflect­ed on word usage, sen­tence struc­tures, and the impact it had on them. Final­ly, we arrived at inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty accord­ing to K.W. Krenshaw’s and P.H. Collins’s take on Black fem­i­nist the­o­ry. Many of my stu­dents were not from the human­i­ties and encoun­tered this con­cept for the first time.

After sev­en weeks, it was time to get down to the nit­ty-grit­ty: a pen-and-paper role-play­ing game (RPG) – think dun­geons and drag­ons. Shock: Social Sci­ence Fic­tion, writ­ten by Joshua A.C. New­man, list­ed books which inspired the game. Each of the groups, con­sist­ing of an equal num­ber of human­i­ties and sci­ence majors, had to cre­ate their own world. They used world-build­ing tem­plates I had pieced togeth­er from sev­er­al sources to make sure the basics in cul­ture, cli­mate, con­flict, soci­ety, and gov­ern­ment were cov­ered. Addi­tion­al­ly, they had to name and por­tray the char­ac­ter who would rep­re­sent this plan­et. This was a ‘work in progress’ as stu­dents had to adjust these tem­plates once they start­ed work­ing with their worlds.

After they set up their worlds, they became rep­re­sen­ta­tives at a kind of Unit­ed Nations for plan­ets (UPC). Par­tic­i­pants from each world were placed on four com­mit­tees of their choos­ing. Their first task was to talk in gen­er­al terms about one of these top­ics: gen­der, tech­nol­o­gy, cli­mate, or immi­gra­tion. They then had to write a per­son­al blog using a com­bi­na­tion of infor­mal and neu­tral lan­guage. This first assign­ment received feed­back but was not graded.

After a total of three ‘com­mit­tee’ meet­ings, stu­dents wrote a for­mal report to their supe­ri­or and then an offi­cial blog. These were based on issues that were the soci­etal top­ics stu­dents wrote down in the begin­ning and includ­ed gen­der, envi­ron­ment, epi­demics, and immi­gra­tion. Once each per­son on the com­mit­tee dealt with the ‘issue’ and wrote about it, the group looked at what role inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty played. Who was dis­crim­i­nat­ed against? Who was for­got­ten? What con­se­quences were over­looked? How many well-inten­tioned solu­tions turned out to be detri­men­tal to those not in power?

Addi­tion­al­ly, stu­dents worked in their ini­tial world build­ing groups to adjust the orig­i­nal set­up and cre­ate a plan­et dossier. I asked the plan­et groups to dis­cuss how their char­ac­ter expe­ri­enced or saw inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty. These dis­cus­sions proved to be the most fruit­ful. Here stu­dents saw how peo­ple in pow­er over­look or abuse oth­ers (one stu­dent chose to play the vil­lain). They real­ized that all peo­ple need a voice. This not only val­i­dat­ed the the­o­ry of inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty for my stu­dents but also showed how much it’s need­ed in society.

After peer edit­ing, the two last meet­ings were spent pulling their sto­ries togeth­er. I cre­at­ed the start for each com­mit­tee (the same for every group) and then showed them how to link the var­i­ous eye­wit­ness writ­ings to cre­ate one sto­ry. Using an Ether­pad, the groups placed the 40-odd pages, includ­ing the plan­et dossiers, into one doc­u­ment. They then divid­ed up the work so that each per­son edit­ed one sec­tion. Some sto­ry adjust­ments were made to ensure the plot was con­sis­tent. Last­ly, they found illus­tra­tions for their sto­ries in Pix­abay or Unsplash and cre­at­ed their title page.

All in all, my stu­dents were ful­ly engaged in the entire process. By using top­ics they were inter­est­ed in, they seemed intrin­si­cal­ly moti­vat­ed. More­over, their sub­ject knowl­edge as well as writ­ing improved. They also went well above and beyond what was asked of them by draw­ing their plan­ets and inhabitants.

For me, to be hon­est, this class was extreme­ly time-con­sum­ing but also one of the most reward­ing I have ever taught. In fact, I have done anoth­er col­lab­o­ra­tive writ­ing course using the Steam­punk genre and stereo­types. These aren’t cours­es that can be taught every semes­ter, but they’re well worth repeat­ing in intervals.

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L. Lynette Kirschn­er is the cur­rent Direc­tor of the Lan­guage Cen­ter at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. She is also a lec­tur­er with a degree in Ger­man Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture. She likes all things strange, dif­fer­ent, and off beat and often lets her stu­dents get geeky in class.