Research and Writing as a Collaborative Process

Paulette Swartzfager

College of Liberal Arts
Writing Seminar
Undergraduate, Campus-based Course

Paulette Swartzfager, a lecturer for RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, has found the RIT Confluence Wiki and the Plagiarism Detection Option (Turnitin) in the myCourses’ Dropbox to be helpful learning tools for students in her Writing Seminar course. Through a team-based research project, students use the wiki to post, comment, and collaborate on topics they investigate through the Wallace Library research databases, online resources, in-person interviews, and self-administered surveys. Paulette makes the Plagiarism Detection Option visible via a myCourses’ Dropbox so as students submit their drafts they can check their work to make sure they are citing referenced sources properly and refining their own original thoughts and ideas with each edit.  The overall goal is to empower students in their development as writers and critical thinkers within the various academic disciplines they are studying at RIT. 

Teaching and Learning Goals

In her Writing Seminar course, Paulette Swartzfager sets out to help students build their confidence and identity as both researchers and writers. To address this, Paulette has students work towards strengthening their writing competencies in a number of areas.  Along with researching and practicing effective structure, proper grammar, mechanics and citation, they are also guided through a cyclical method of writing, reflection, collaboration, and editing. What she wants students to walk away with through this process is a better sense of themselves as writers and researchers as they continue on in their academic programs. 

Teaching Strategies and Tools

For Writing Seminar, one of the activities Paulette has students work on is the Research Writing Project. This project consists of two parts. The first part is a collaborative research component for which different student teams are assigned a broad topic for exploration through online research. Early on in the quarter, a workshop is provided on how to use the Wallace Library databases for focused research. The second part is the independent writing activity that goes through several revision cycles.

Paulette sets up RIT Wiki pages or  “group-editable websites” (Figure 1), for each team for collecting, sharing, and commenting on resources.  Throughout this phase, students within the research teams are encouraged to comment on each other’s findings and offer ideas and suggestions as they each determine what specific areas they are interested in writing about for their individual papers.

As each draft of the individual paper is due, Paulette instructs students to use myCourses’ Plagiarism Detection Option in the Dropbox tool (Figure 2), which uses Turnitin (Figure 3) to gauge, for themselves, how much of their work is original and from other sources.  She has them look at what sources they are referencing, if they are citing them properly, when and how to paraphrase versus quoting a source directly, and most importantly, constructing their own insights and observations rather than simply repeating what others have written.   For a final draft, she requires that no more than 20% of their papers be quoted or paraphrased from other sources. 

Experiences and Results

Paulette found that introducing both tools early on during the quarter works best.  Even though students do not use the wiki until Week 7, she sets them up at the very beginning of the course so students can practice posting and commenting with each other.   Overall, adding text and links, editing, and posting comments has been easy for her students through the use of the wiki. With the wiki, the ability for students to edit and comment on each other’s postings has typically generated more thorough research activity because students build on one another’s findings and sources.  By using the Plagiarism Detection option in the myCourses Dropbox, Paulette has discovered that students are a lot less apprehensive about the writing process as a whole.  In a 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education interview, Paulette indicated, “They use it as a tool. They keep resubmitting it and working on it until it gets appropriately in their own words, or in quotations, or cited" (Parry).

Student Comments for Writing Seminar:

“The aspect of this course that I found to be very helpful was the fact that a good deal of the writing is actually done in class.  …Also the peer reviews, which we did in class were helpful because it was interesting to read others papers and compare their writing to your own.  Also this process produced ideas that I would have never thought of and while I did not always use these ideas just thinking about them is important in the revising process.”

“Our class was very diverse and just being in class allowed me to learn a lot.  The group research also helped me to learn about other languages and cultures as the surveys that our group completed produced interesting results.”

When I read my own literacy narrative and compared it to others in my class, I realized how different each of our experiences were especially since we have many students who are from or have parents from other countries.”

Parry, Mark. "Software Catches (and Also Helps) Young Plagiarists". The Chronicle of HIgher Education.