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Jennifer Sano-Franchini


February 18, 2011

Facilitating a Rhetoric of Collaboration: A Resource for Learning/Teaching Research

February 18, 2011 | By | No Comments

I entered the CHI fellowship program without a real sense of what my cultural heritage informatics project would look like. I knew that I wanted to to be useful, and I figured it would be a best if I could connect the project to my imminent dissertation. But beyond that, I had nothing. To tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure that I fully understood what a cultural heritage informatics project should do. This is to say that the project described below developed alongside the meetings and discussions we had with the CHI program. I found it particularly generative to learn about the projects that the other fellows were working on. In listening to Katy, Micalee, and Jen talk through their projects, I was interested in the ways their projects employed technological tools to deal with issues of access, as well as to organize information.

My project works toward similar goals. Basically, I’m planning to develop a website of thematically-organized link sources pertaining to contemporary cultural issues to serve as a resource for college-level writing students and instructors. This project draws on the layouts of existing websites like Wikipedia and delicious in that its content will be driven primarily by user-contribution of links to news articles, scholarly articles, blogs, and other online media, which will be arranged by individual pages pertaining to specific topics, to which users can follow, or subscribe. Unlike Wikipedia, however, the site will not include a narrative accompanying the citations; the primary resource that this website will provide will be the links to sources aggregated around specific issues, encouraging students and other users to formulate their own narratives from the media sources provided. In this way, individual pages will put links to articles, blogs, and other kinds of pieces of a larger conversation into dialogue with one another. I’m currently thinking to begin with the content domain of intellectual property, which might include pages on: history of intellectual property, copyright/copyleft, remix, read-write culture, plagiarism, fair use, torrent communities, piracy, authorship/ownership, design imitation in fashion, and intellectual property across cultures.

The rationales for this project are: 1) that huge changes in information accessibility warrant changes in the way we teach students to do research; and 2) that shifts in the broader Academy about the way we understand knowledge-production should come with some reconsiderations about what we teach students about knowledge-production. Many have written about the ways digital technology and the internet impact the way students think and process information on fundamental levels (DeVoss & Porter, 2006; Johnson-Eilola, 1998; Prensky, 2001; Selfe & Hawisher, 2004; Selfe & Selfe, 1994; Slatin, 1990), and a major point of discussion in education is how students today “pay attention” differently from students of the past. Writing instructors have seen some of the consequences of this shift, as many students seem to be finding it more difficult to deal with the legwork of sifting through information in the digital age. I believe this is evidenced by some of the conversations among instructors over students using Wikipedia as a source: students are attracted to what is quick, easy, and accessible (Ballenger, 2009; Jaschik, 2007). I see this project as a potential place to facilitate student research differently amidst these changing realities and with a mind open to the possible advantages of using digital technology to do so.

Secondly, this project engages ongoing debates in the Academy with regards to changing models of knowledge production that have come about with widespread access to the internet and other technological developments (Ball, 2004; Unsworth, et al., 2006; Johnson, et al., 2010). “Old models” of knowledge production, generally consisting of single-authors doing research individually, using alphabetic text in print journals or books with slow turnover, contrast markedly from more recent developments in academia including online, open-access journals, un-conferences, and collaborative research, which are characterized by use of a range of digital media, widespread collaboration, greater access, and rapid circulation of knowledge. I believe that this shift in the broader Academy should come with some reconsiderations about the way we teach students to do research.

Therefore, while the primary goal of the project is to serve as a resource to facilitate student research as well as writing instruction in college-level composition courses, the larger purpose of the project is to facilitate more collaborative understandings of writing, research, and knowledge-making. This project does this through an interface that enables user-contributed links and user participation across institutional and geographical boundaries, accompanied by a space for users to contribute discussion questions along with separate discussion boards for instructors and students where instructors can share lesson plans and other teaching ideas and students can discuss pertinent issues across institutions. Through this project, users will be encouraged to freely draw from others’ work (while, of course, citing their sources), work together to build bodies of knowledge, and add to larger ongoing conversations by discussing debatable issues pertinent to those bodies of knowledge.

At this point, I’m starting to try out different frameworks for developing the site. I’m still at the beginning stages of this project, but I’m looking forward to where it might go.


Ball, C. E. (2004). Show, not tell: The value of new media scholarship. Computers and Composition, 21(4): 403-425.

Ballenger, B. (2009). Wikipedia: Right or wrong? The curious researcher: A guide to writing research papers. (p. 41). New York: Longman.

DeVoss, D. N., & Porter, J. E. (2006). Why Napster matters to writing: Filesharing as a new ethic of digital delivery. Computers & Composition, 23, 178–210.

Jaschik, S. (2007, January 26). A stand against Wikipedia. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Johnson-Eilola, J. (1998). Living on the surface: Learning in the age of global communication networks. In Ilana Snyder (Ed.), Page to screen: Taking literacy into the electronic era (pp. 185–210). London: Routledge.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Selfe, C. L., & Hawisher, G. E. (2004). Literate lives in the information age: Narratives of literacy from the United States. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Selfe, C. L., & Selfe, R. J. (1994). The politics of the interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones. College Composition and Communication, 45, 480–504.

Slatin, J. M. (1990). Reading hypertext: Order and coherence in a new medium. College English, 52(8). 870-883.

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