Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Main content start

Two Heads Are Better Than One: Collaborations in PWR

students at work in classroom

By Jenae Cohn

In writing classes, we often encourage students to collaborate with their peers on developing research ideas, refining their prose, and clarifying their arguments. As instructors, we benefit from collaborating with our peers too, and in PWR, several instructors have developed fruitful collaborations both within and outside of the program to help improve their students’ learning experiences. In this article, we’ll highlight a few examples from fall quarter 2017 and winter quarter 2018 of instructors who partnered up with each other or with instructors outside of Stanford to innovate their teaching and find new avenues for students to explore their research ideas.

Jennifer Stonaker and Cassie Wright: Expanded Audiences in PWR 2

When Jenne and Cassie realized that they were teaching their PWR 2 sections at the same time, they felt excited that they could bring their classes together for fruitful conversation in both research mixers and in presentation rehearsals. “Our classes are very different… and we thought students in the different classes would have interesting perspectives to share with each other,” said Jenne. “We carried this idea — about hearing from different perspectives — through to the dress rehearsals. Mixing the students up in the dress rehearsal breakout groups also helped students keep their presentations “fresh.” They didn’t have to worry about giving away a surprise hook or other element, and students were a more engaged audience during final presentations because they were seeing most of the talks for the first time.”

Bringing together their two classes led to great conversation and an expanded awareness of how different students could approach delivering research presentations, but the collaboration was not without its challenges. Logistically, finding spaces for various breakout sessions among the two classes required room-booking support from Jonathan and Shanley. Jenne and Cassie also had to be flexible in some of their lesson planning, and the ways that they scaffolded the collaborative mixers and presentations. While they did not have the same exact lesson plans before and after the collaboration sessions, they worked together to make sure that the lessons were close enough in their ideas that students could approach the collaborations with the same principles in mind.

Student feedback on the experience tended to be positive in spite of some of the challenges. While some students felt a bit shy presenting to new students at first, most students valued the opportunity to get different perspectives on their research ideas. Student evaluation responses about the collaboration included:

"They supported my learning greatly as it gave me an idea of what I needed to improve on and how to narrow down my talk. They also gave me an idea of what information I needed to provide and what information I could assume was prior knowledge.”

"Dress rehearsals actually helped a great deal. When revising, I took all the feedback from every dress rehearsal and draft and peer review activity we did and applied it, and I got a really solid paper by the end of it.”

If you are interested in facilitating a collaboration like Jenne’s and Cassie’s, consider looking through ExploreCourses to see which instructors have sections at the same time as you do. You may find that you and another instructor are able to give your students an expanded notion of audience by working with another section!

Meg Formato and Selby Schwartz: PWR 1 Inter-Sections

As some of you might remember, in their first year here, Meg Formato, Selby Schwartz, and former PWR lecturer Maxe Crandall experimented with an ambitious 3-way exchange between their PWR 2 sections - with great success. Now Meg and Selby have brought this same spirit of partnership and collaboration to their winter PWR 1 classes.  Part of what makes their collaboration so interesting is that their themes do not on the surface naturally intersect. Meg is teaching "Imagining Technology: The Rhetoric of Humans and Machines," and Selby's course is "Banksy, B-Girls, and the Rhetoric of Public Art."  However, they see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

They've developed four ways to bring their PWR 1 classes together this quarter:

  • They are bringing in an interdisciplinary artist and scholar, Monica Westin, as a guest speaker who will lead an interactive session with the classes about the cultural imagination of art and technology
  • The classes will do a shared reading on gender and labor and maintenance, thinking about the technologies of maintenance in art, and will participate in a cross-section discussion
  • Meg and Selby will each lead the combined class group in their favorite revision mini-workshops, playing to their own strengths as teachers and giving their students the opportunity to hear revision strategies from a new instructor. 
  • For their final RBA, the students will be grouped in peer review groups across the sections to give them a new audience for their work -- one which they're already familiar with through their other inter-section activities, but which hasn't been necessarily been as much of a part of the sustained conversations around their research topics as the students in their own section

Meg reflected on the planning process for this extended collaboration this quarter: "The themes seem at first to be totally different with no obvious overlap, but it's been so fun and rewarding to think about ways to connect them and also bring very different types of student communities together."

Be sure to check in with Meg and Selby during the quarter to hear how their winter partnership went and perhaps draw some inspiration for your own inter-section collaborations.

Samah Elbelazi and Lama Alharbi (IUP): Cross-Campus Connections in PWR 1

Samah Elbelazi wanted her PWR 1 students to engage with other first-year students on their writing. She saw an opportunity for her students to collaborate with her colleague, Lama Alharbi, and her students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) this fall. Both instructors wanted to empower their students to share their ideas with a peer from a different state and a potentially very different cultural and social background. “Because we both believe that writing is a dynamic and a social act, we wanted to engage students in literacy socialization practices where their writing became visible and their research shared with students in a different state,” said Samah. “We began the process by setting clear goals and objectives so the students in both institutions would benefit from this learning experience.” Some of the goals and objectives of the cross-campus research mixer included, “Provide outside audience to students in both universities,” “Practice cultural rhetoric by sharing thoughts from two different states and institutions,” and “Engage students in a socializing practice of writing.”

Using Zoom, a free video conferencing program, Samah called Lama’s class during her class session and projected a video of Lama’s class to her room in Wallenberg. Similarly, Lama projected an image of Samah’s class to her classroom in Pennsylvania. The students began the video conference session by going around the room and introducing themselves to the other class. Each student shared their name, where they grew up, and a brief statement on what they were writing a research paper about. Once the students introduced themselves, they each logged into a shared Google Drive folder where the students could find a paper from their peer partner at either IUP or Stanford. In this way, each Stanford student was paired with an IUP student whose research paper explored a similar topic to their own. During the class session, students engaged in cross-campus peer review, reading and writing comments on each other’s papers while occasionally speaking to each other via Zoom.

Samah reflected that students in both institutions were well-prepared for the cross-campus peer review and were excited about working together. Samah noted that, “PWR students commented that this is their first-time experience with such an engaging activity where they were not only representing their research projects but their PWR class and Stanford University. After the session was over, the students felt proud of their work and empowered by the feedback they received from both classes.”

Samah hopes to replicate the activity again in a future PWR 1 section, and she will be continuing a legacy of cross-campus collaborations that other PWR instructors have facilitated in the past. Last year, John Peterson engaged in a cross-campus collaboration between his PWR 1 students and students at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan (to learn more about John’s project, read our newsletter article on John’s collaboration, “Connecting Students Between Japan and Stanford”). Christine Alfano and former PWR lecturer Alyssa O’Brien also conducted the Cross-Cultural Rhetoric project from 2006-2013, which invited Stanford students to engage in meaningful global conversations about writing with students from Sweden, Singapore, and Australia.

If you are interested in conducting a cross-campus collaboration, you may want to consult with Samah, John, or Christine to learn about their experiences.