This semester I’m teaching a new graduate class. This seminar class is for doctoral students to get their hands and their heads around the scope of research. As a class, we are designing a collaborative study, collecting data, analyzing data, and writing it all up.

Not just is the class new to me, we are doing some things with research and teaching that are uncharted territory. First, as a class, we are collaboratively writing in a Google Docs document. While I’ve done this many times before, I’ve never collaboratively wrote with eight other people. Plus, I have also never reviewed and edited eight other individual’s works — attempting to integrate them into a common voice.

Along this same line, these students are all novice researchers and novice academic writers. So I am struggling with meeting their individual needs for scaffolding while meeting the expectations I have for high quality writing and research. For example, with one section of our collaborative literature review, I am pushing for a student to move toward more synthesis of previous research, and in another area, I am pushing for another student to integrate more structure and advance organizers to improve the readability of the review. (I am, of course, reminded that my daughters’ classroom teachers do this every day, differentiating learning to 20 students.)

I believe this complexity is compounded by the authentic work we are tackling, as well as the collaboration we are doing inside a common product. I also believe I am struggling with the collaboration because primarily the students are collaborating with me and not with one another. In order to provide some structure and procedural and conceptual scaffolding for the students, I have divided out sections of the research report we’re writing. So, individually, they are working on sections of the report. (I understand that some of you would argue with me to call this cooperative — not collaborative — learning and I would probably not argue back with you.)

I am moving toward peer editing, but we haven’t reached that yet. We are also moving toward collaborative data analysis of our interview data, and I haven’t quite got this figured out yet either. If you’ve got suggestions, I’d love to hear them. If you’ve got warning signs, I’d love to hear about those, too. This is uncharted territory and wisdom would be much appreciated.

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

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