Thursday, February 25, 2016

Collaboration

I've got collaboration on the brain. That's mostly because Kelsie and I recently have been working on a collaborative teaching/research project. So when I read Latterell's claim at the end of her article--"Tenured faculty, advanced GTAs, writing center professionals, instructors, and undergraduate students are under-utilized resources in most GTA education programs" (153)--I thought, Yes, of course that's true.

Latterell is talking about making use of all our personnel resources within the entire spectrum of GTA education, including the practicum, workshops, mentorships, etc. But even if we narrow that scope down to just the practicum, it's an interesting idea. Consider the following:

  • A practicum course could be collaboratively planned/designed by various stakeholders in the writing program, not just the director or instructor of record. 
  • A practicum course could be taught, perhaps in sections, by various people involved in the writing program, according to their areas of expertise. 
  • "Advanced" GTAs could guest lecture, like Mike gave Mary and me the opportunity to do, in the practicum class. 
  • Writing center tutors could guest lecture (or lead a workshop, etc.) about responding to student writing and conferencing with students. 
  • We could invite FYC student voices into the practicum class in a variety of ways, as well. For example, I held a focus group with a few of my 103 students last semester (and offered them extra credit for participating). I asked them to tell me about their thoughts on "discussion v. lecture" in the classroom for teaching and learning. I recorded the focus group and edited it down to share with the practicum students on a day that I was guest lecturing. Understanding what students believe about and value in their eduction should, in part, inform the instructional choices we make. 
At first, one might think that sharing responsibilities with others in this way would lighten the load of the person who is typically placed with the majority of the administrative burden. However, based on my own experience with collaboration, that's not necessarily true. Collaboration is difficult and it takes more time than you expect it to, but I think the results show an important pay off. GTAs' education would benefit from hearing a variety of perspectives related to teaching composition and they would form relationships with a variety of people who can all serve as helpful resources to them. The moral of the story, folks, at least in my opinion, is that two heads are better than one. 

How can we set up our writing program administration and institutional practices so that they value and encourage/reward collaboration like this? Are you guys skeptical about the idea or find it intriguing (like I do)? If you are skeptical, why is that?  

3 comments:

  1. I think that effective collaboration could be fostered more effectively in an environment where "the individual scholar" is not as privileged as a model for teaching and publishing. As you were saying, collaboration does take work and can be difficult, and it adds an interpersonal layer to the work (in terms of approaching the task as a team of two or more) that is less required in individual projects and work pursuits. People should definitely be adequately recognized and compensated for doing this type of collaborative work. The key is making sure the responsibilities are truly shared, which the individuals engaging in the work then need to navigate.

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  2. I think that ID 601 is a great place to include more collaboration in the writing program. For starters, it gives more people the opportunity to expand their professional portfolio. Being a guest lecturer or workshop coordinator looks awesome on a CV (I think most graduate students would appreciate this opportunity) but also it could help new TAs feel like there's a larger support system. It can be intimidating for new instructors to have to approach someone with a lot of power but if there are other instructors, graduate students, and so on coming into the classroom, new TAs will recognize that there are many people they could go to for help or advice. Also, it's just a nice way to get to know other people in the department! I really liked that Mike had people from different departments at the university come talk to us (like Disability Services and Counseling Services) so that we could put a name with a face and also to help us understand that we are not alone and we have resources. Mary and Morgan's guest lecturing gave us the opportunity to ask questions about what it's like to teach as a graduate assistant. Mike and Mary Clark-Flynn's expertise guided us through tricky scenarios. I thought it was a good balance of hearing several voices and perspectives. I wonder if it could become overwhelming to hear too many voices. Sometimes new TAs are bombarded with "best practices" and advice and much of it is contradictory. I think it's great to hear from different perspectives but it's also comforting to have one or two familiar voices to fall back on.

    I would like to see more collaboration among faculty and graduate assistants partly as a form of mentorship and partly as an opportunity for professionalization. Also, I want to know more people in the department. I would like to see more workshops about assessment or designing projects or student engagement that are directed at FYC instructors so that I can share ideas with a variety of people in the department. I don't think I really answered any of your questions, Morgan, but those are my initial thoughts...

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  3. Building off of what Alyssa said, I think that having guest lecturers come into 601 (Mary, Morgan, and a variety of people from different areas of 'help' in the University) was definitely helpful for us. I think the most important thing is to remember that many students in 601 are nervous, anxious, insecure, etc. about both teaching AND being in this new academic space that is radically different than undergraduate school. More than anything, I just felt sort of alone. Like I had to fake it until I made it in the sense that I would just pretend that the thought of teaching in the Spring didn't make me sick to my stomach, until I no longer felt anxious about it.
    Considering those feelings, I think that bringing in the heads of various University services eased that nervousness and anxiety more than anything we talked about in class. It is a different form of collaboration than the in-house collaboration of WPA/WC/601 but its one that made me feel, more than anything else, very safe. This seems bizarre in hindsight, but I remember those individuals making me feel that way.

    I think that bringing in more individuals is helpful not only because we get a variety of voices, but also we instantly feel a connection to those voices, and are thus more likely to get in contact with those individuals later on. As my experience in the Fall suggests, though, the end results dont necessarily have to be getting in contact. Sometimes, such collaboration is beneficial because of the sense of community it provides. For me, the best way to describe it would be a "safe net," like those around roller coasters. When I was young, thinking about roller coasters in this way--even if I do fly off, I'll land in the safe net--helped me with my fear of them, and I then loved them. In the same way, we can more whole heartedly embrace teaching when we know there is a "safe net," and thats something that has to be seen by the new TA. It can be said all day, but once we bring in individuals and discuss what they do and how they can help us, it transforms the "safe net" from a verbal insurance to a more tangible reality.

    MORGAN'S QS: When I "consider the following," the only real issue I see is in proposition number 2, which considers the possibility of having 601 be divvied up and taught by various individuals within the field according to their expertise. First of all, I think this is a fantastic idea, and I love it. However, I would urge against it for 601, and would pose instead to have it as a possible 605, or even an extended practicum class after 605. Of course, the issue there is that how many practicum classes can a MA take when only there 2 years? I like the idea of having this for 601, but I think Mike and/or Mary (or Jackie, or anybody, really) would have to remain there and be a sort of anchor for the class, thematically. I think that collaboration can have the opposite effect of the comforting experience I had in the Fall when it is overloaded with so many voices and no anchor, because than students feel even more lost, and probably overwhelmed with the amount of content without anybody leading the class to sort of thematically summarize and direct the flow of the class lecturers. Just my thoughts.

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