PWR Collaborations, Or the Power of Collaboration

PWR Collaborations, Or the Power of Collaboration

"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up." – Oliver Wendell Holmes

"It takes two flints to make a fire." – Louisa May Alcott

When Andrea Lunsford joined Stanford and reimagined the writing program in 2000, she cultivated a culture of collaboration by modeling its value in her own contributions to the discipline.  She set the tone of collaboration with the likes of John Ruszkiewicz (Everything’s an Argument), Lisa Ede (numerous texts, including Singular Texts/Plural Authors), Cheryl Glenn (“Border Crossings,” also with Lisa Ede), Robert Connors (The St. Martin’s Handbook), Richard Altick (Preface to Critical Reading), and many others. She argued, nationally as well as in Stanford contexts, for the validity and benefits of collaborative work, encouraging PWR lecturers to consider opportunities to enrich their own professional lives through shared projects.

The early years of the program saw several such collaborations: former lecturers Ardel Thomas and Carolyn Ross published  Writing for Real: A Handbook for Writing in Community Service, which came directly from their work with Stanford’s then-Community Writing Project, an initiative that incorporated service learning opportunities into PWR classes.  Wendy Goldberg and our much-missed late colleague John Tinker (pictured right), during their time as acting Coordinators for the Stanford Writing Center (later renamed the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking), worked together for many years on a themed-reader related to writing style (Breaking the Rules: Reinventing Ourselves in a World of Change) that they had hoped to publish for the writing classroom.

Another long-standing collaborative team from those early days was the “dynamic duo”: Christine Alfano and former PWR lecturer Alyssa O’Brien (pictured below).  Their collaboration, likewise, arose initially out of shared pedagogical approaches. “Alyssa and I were chatting one day at a Program Meeting long ago -- I was just back from maternity leave with my son, Max [now a junior in college],” Christine reflects, “and as we talked, we both realized that we were cobbling together similar sorts of materials for our classes. We both were teaching classes with a heavy emphasis on visual rhetoric and multimodal texts, and, at the time, there wasn’t too much out there that provided an in-depth framework for classwork in that area. There were a couple readers and argument books, but not much. I can’t remember which one of us said, mostly jokingly, ‘We should write a textbook!’, but one of us definitely said it ..., and that’s what we ended up doing.”

The first edition of Envision: Writing and Researching Arguments was published in 2005 and later was expanded to a version with a reader called Envision in Depth.  The Envision series is now in its 5th edition (4th for Envision in Depth). Christine and Alyssa continued collaborating on other fronts as well, winning a $300K Wallenberg Global Learning Network grant to start Stanford’s Cross-Cultural Rhetoric Project, which ran from 2006-2013.  “We were a little ahead of our time with that one,” Christine muses. “The project connected PWR students, during class time, for small group, synchronous activities with other students across the world. We used the platform Marratech to create cross-cultural student groups with classes in Sydney, Cairo, Orebro, and Singapore, among others.  Many PWR lecturers participated in the project, including John Peterson, Donna Hunter, and Sangeeta Mediratta.” (To learn more about the project, read their 2015 “Tech Travels” article.)

 

The same culture of fellowship and collaboration that fostered successful partnerships like Carolyn and Ardel’s, Wendy and John’s, and Christine and Alyssa’s continues in our program almost 20 years later.  Especially today, as our lecturers bring a diversity of disciplinary expertise to our program -- from Comparative Literature to Earth Sciences, from Law to the Performing Arts, from Literature to Political Science -- there are rich opportunities for collaboration on interdisciplinary projects outside of the classroom.

These collaborations take many forms, from conference presentations and panels to formal writing projects.  Here are some examples of PWR collaborations across the years:

  • An IRB-approved project on first-gen students and the academic researcher identity by Meg Formato, Jennifer Johnson, Christine Alfano, and our former colleague Ashley Newby called, “'I was able to connect my knowledge': Research Writing Pedagogy as Sustaining First-Generation College Student Identities in a Bridge Program,” soon to be published by MLA in the edited collection:  Beyond Fitting In: Rethinking First-Gen Writing and Literacy Education.

  • An article by Donna Hunter and Emily Polk: “Academic Responses to Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter,” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, Volume 28, 2016.

  • Work on queer and trans performance by Selby Schwartz and our former colleague, Maxe Crandall, including “PolySensorium Tells Your Fortune: Action Art Object” (with Julian Carter, Doran George, Zach Ozma. Transgender Studies Quarterly 5.1. April 2018); “Radical Movements: Gender and Politics in Performance”, Movement Research: Critical Correspondence, Dec 2017; “Moving Transgender Histories: Sean Dorsey’s Trans Archival Practice,”  Transgender Studies Quarterly 2.4 (2015): 565-77. Nov 2015; and, “Symptoms of Identity: Feeling Sameness with BodyCartography,” Women and Performance 24.2-3. Fall 2014. (Read more about Selby and Maxe’s scholarship and collaboration in this 2017 PWR Newsletter article.)

  • A co-authored chapter by Norah Fahim, John Peterson, and former Academic Technology Specialist Jenae Cohn entitled, “Tinker, Teacher, Sharer, Spy: Negotiating Surveillance in Online Collaborative Writing Spaces” in the forthcoming edited Collection, Privacy Matters: Conversations about Surveillance within and beyond the Classroom (coming out this March! - pictured right at Stanford's ATXpo, at the beginning of their collaboration).

  • An article by Meg Formato, Jenne Stonaker, and Jenae Cohn, due out shortly with AePR, based on their ePortfolio work together on the Notation in Science Communication, called, "Not Just an Invisible Container: Exploring How ePortfolio Platforms Can Privilege Student Learning and Reflection.”

  • A collaboration between Sarah Pittock and former Hume Director Julia Bleakney that empirically assesses the influence of tutoring talk on student revisions: "Tutor Talk: Do Tutors Scaffold Students' Revisions?" Writing Center Journal 37.2 (2019).  See also more about Sarah’s scholarship and collaborations in this issue’s Teacher, Writer, Scholar feature.

  • A pedagogy-focused chapter by Norah Fahim, Jennifer Johnson, and Helen Lie called, “Expanding Rhetorical Flexibility through Language Awareness: Three Vignettes in Oral Academic Communication”, in Pedagogical Innovations in Oral Academic Communication, under review by the University of Michigan Press. 

One innovative recent cross-PWR collaboration is the Rhetorically Speaking podcast, which was spearheaded by Cassie Wright, along with a creative team including Jenne Stonaker, Jenae Cohn, and former Oral Communications lecturer Jake Warga; Chris Kamrath, Hayden Kantor, Sarah Pittock, Emily Polk, and former PWR Fellow Lauren Oakes also joined the team for episodes.  While Rhetorically Speaking has explored several formats to find what works for listeners, the prevailing format includes interviewing scholars on their current work and discussing the ways rhetoric and language shape understanding of current events. With 2 seasons and 13 episodes produced, the podcast was gaining some traction and an international reach when the pandemic put it on hold, though its archives of episodes is still available to the listening public.  (For more on this project, you can read our newsletter article on Rhetorically Speaking from May 2019.)

Even in these unusual times, some lecturers have managed to continue to move forward with projects that originated in pre-pandemic times.  One such pair is Tesla Schaeffer and Lisa Swan, who have been working on a reading project, tentatively titled, “Reading for Research and Conversation: a Mining Reading Approach” for almost two years.  Tesla and Lisa describe their project in this way, illustrating how our work in the classroom continues to inspire much of our intellectual work:

We are in the process of conceptualizing and researching a way of reading that centers the research process and conversation--what we’re calling Mining Reading. We approached this project because we observed many of our students struggling to summarize sources, understand the conversation, and creatively use sources to support their arguments. We realized that these struggles, although discovered in their writing, were grounded in students’ reading practices. Since we both come to Composition pedagogy from scholarly backgrounds in disciplines that explicitly center reading-- Education and Literature-- we designed a curriculum to teach mining reading. We’ve developed materials that we have shared on the Teaching Writing website and submitted papers to the College Conference of Composition and Communication last year. Right now, we are conducting an IRB-approved study examining students’ written reflections about their reading practices. We are working towards publication, developing workshops, and sharing our thoughts with the PWR community.

Collaborations such as those detailed above can also provide amazing opportunities for intellectual engagement across disciplines and contexts. “I learned so much from JJ, Meg, and Ashley, about social science research,” Christine noted, reflecting on their recent project about first-generation students’ researcher identity. “For me, the entire project was a growth moment. I’m a better researcher -- and a better teacher of research -- having worked with them.” Helen Lie echoes this sentiment in speaking about her work with Jennifer and Norah, "The best part of the project so far has been the experience of working through the writing together and learning from each other. “

Shared projects also throw the writing process itself into sharp relief as lecturers bring their own approaches to collaboration.  Even before these socially distant times, this sort of intellectual work took place across many platforms and spaces: from Google docs, to word files shared back and forth, late night conversations and texting sessions, long phone calls and face to face brainstorms and writing sessions.  The collaborative process differs between projects and sometimes within the same project: some collaborators write synchronously, in the same room or on the same Google Doc, others will delegate responsibility for different portions of a project, yet others might divide up responsibilities between research-related and writing-related tasks.  

In each case, collaboration offers an opportunity to practice what many of us preach to our students: collaboration means navigating perspectives, approaches, and styles in real time, and the result is often if not always that which a single person could not have produced on their own. As John notes, “I  love how when you write collaboratively you get to work directly with your audience at every step of the process. When I write by myself and then work with an editor, I feel alone and disconnected from the audience. With Norah and Jenae, I had a reason to write every day.”  In a recent email, Sarah also underscored how co-writing can aid productivity, adding a level of accountability that helps you “stick to a writing schedule.” She then elaborated on the ways it can help you grow as a writer and scholar: “Collaboration supports productive risk taking,” she said. “You can stretch farther out of your comfort zone with respect to your topic, research approach, and writing because you know you’ll have (at least) two minds working to resolve the inevitable problems.”

One thing is for certain: when you talk to PWR lecturers that collaborate, they all emphasize the connections it fosters between colleagues.  It epitomizes the spirit of generosity, sharing, and affection that underlies so much of our PWR community.  Collaborating “supports working friendships across time and space,” in the words of Sarah Pittock. As Selby Schwartz points out, reflecting on her long-running work with Maxe Crandall, most PWR collaborations aren’t motivated by institutional pressures around tenure or promotion: instead they’re driven by intellectual passion and curiosity, and the desire to support and help each other thrive as scholars: 

Because the university doesn't support or compensate the scholarship of Lecturers in the ways it does for tenure-track faculty--we don't have tenure files, we don't get sabbaticals--the collaborations I undertake come from love alone. Co-writing with Maxe has been exactly this kind of act of love, of community, of co-imagining. It's like mutual aid: when the system doesn't support you, you have to come together and support each other.

In a way, then, PWR collaborations might be thought of as acts of collective resistance - the support and community building that comes out of these moments can be and often is revolutionary.  Such collaborations resist the isolating, solo-author paradigm; they resituate scholarship as shared meaning-making; they work to bring people together, to draw on their collective strengths and ideas; and, they create a relationship based on support and mutual respect for lecturers who might not, in the larger university context, feel as supported in their intellectual work.  

These communal aspects of taking on a project that needs more than one hand on deck, of pursuing a collaborative partnership out of a shared intellectual interest or spiritual need or both, is echoed in John’s reflection on his work with Norah and Jenae where the idea of being together -- of fellowship, comradery, shared vision, and shared experience -- is one of the undeniable benefits of their collaboration. 

Our project has lasted so long and gone through so many phases (theoretical research, primary research, our editors changing publishers and the vision of the book, presenting our research at Computers and Writing), that by the end I really did lose track of who had written which sentences in which section. That is a really liberating feeling. It's a feeling of being together through this long journey.

While the final “product” undoubtedly brings a sense of accomplishment, the process of working together, getting to know our colleagues better as writers, colleagues, and friends, holds its own reward.  The proof in this heartwarming pudding is this: Andrea Lunsford’s legacy of collaboration lives on. Perhaps friendship and meaningful human connection isn’t an accidental byproduct of collaboration; perhaps it is actually but one of the key ingredients to producing the intellectually stimulating work that undoubtedly contributes to the interdisciplinary nature of the work that we do.  

 

A picture of one of PWR’s most creative collaborations: the PWR-incarnation of the Composition Blues Band.  From left to right: Marvin Diogenes, Tom Freeland, and former Hume Director, Clyde Moneyhun. Listen to the Stanford Storytelling Project podcast about CBB or watch a 2011 performance, including Marvin and Clyde, on YouTube.

To read more about PWR teaching collaborations, read our 2018 PWR Newsletter article: “Two Heads are Better than One - Collaborations in PWR”

For a lengthier meditation on collaboration, be sure to look at Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede’s “Why Write … Together” (1983) and “Why Write … Together: A Research Update” (1986).

CODA: Interested in teaming up with a PWR colleague for a collaborative project?  We’re currently thinking up new ways to facilitate collaborations.  Feel free to reach out to the Newsletter team (pwrnewsletter@stanford.edu) or to Committee for Professional and Intellectual Community (CPIC) chair Kim Savelson if you have an idea you’d like to pitch, either for supporting collaborations or for a specific collaboration you’d like to be a part of.