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Teaching Through Publishing: Scholarly Journal Article as Collaborative Final Project (a How To Guide)

Teaching Through Publishing: Scholarly Journal Article as Collaborative Final Project (a How To Guide)

On August 30, 2017, three students from my Queens College composition course published an article in the scholarly, peer-reviewed journal Hybrid Pedagogy. Their article, “The Ultimate Life Experience: Preparing Students for the World Beyond the Classroom” argues that colleges ought to prepare students for a great future, and offers concrete suggestions for how teachers, administrators, and students can work together to make this happen.

 

This blog is the practical, step-by-step, how-to guide that describes how I structured our course around a final assignment that challenged students to co-author submissions to the journal. For more about the pedagogical decisions that went into this, see my article “Write Out Loud: Teaching Writing Through Digital Publishing” in Hybrid Pedagogy (forthcoming). You should feel free to reuse, remix, or borrow from anything you read in this post.

Introduction

One of the most important and challenging lessons to teach in college writing courses is that language is a source of power that makes things happen in the world. Once students recognize the profound implications of our work with language, many of the skills instructors value -- argumentation, organization, revision, editing, proofreading – become much easier to teach. In addition, given that many of us work with students for merely one semester, when we want or need at least two, I am much more confident that students will leave my class and continue to work on their writing if I know that they have a deep understanding of how and why language matters in the world.

 

In fall 2016, I taught a basic writing course at Queens College on “The Purpose of Education.” Instead of writing a traditional final paper that would be read solely by students’ peers and their instructor, this project challenged students to use what they had learned over the course of a semester to collaboratively author submissions to a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. After spending a semester immersed in debates about active learning, critical pedagogy, the role of technology in education, standardized testing, education funding, and segregated schooling, I guided students in their attempts to enter an ongoing scholarly conversation occurring among the Hybrid Pedagogy community. With this assignment, students further developed their reading, writing, and revising skills; practiced writing for a specific audience; and learned the power of their own voices and stories. Writing with the explicit intent of publication was an effort to help students understand how their words matter in the world beyond the classroom.

Background

In fall 2016, students in College Writing 110 were not only informed that the subject of our semester would be “The Purpose of Education,” but also that they would be reading, writing, and learning all semester in preparation to submit articles to a scholarly, peer-reviewed, open-access journal. At the same time, they learned what a scholarly, peer-reviewed, open access journal is: a conversation among people researching a specific topic, sharing and debating the conclusions of their research in public, with the intent of engaging a larger audience in this conversation. Like all Queens College students, the majority of my students that semester were working class, immigrants, non-native speakers of English, and/or the first in their families to attend college. Few arrived with an interest in education and even fewer came to that required class enthusiastic about a semester devoted to writing. As one might imagine, I spent those first few classes wondering exactly what I had been thinking when I decided we would spend the semester not only reviewing the basics of English grammar and introducing students to the conventions of college writing (challenging, semester-long endeavors in and of themselves) but also preparing these students to co-author original, meaningful, and well-researched contributions to an academic journal.

 

Academic hierarchies dictate that students in basic writing classes have little, if anything, to contribute to knowledge production, but increasingly, journals like Hybrid Pedagogy are making a concerted effort to include student voices in their scholarly conversations about teaching and learning. Well before the semester began, I selected Hybrid Pedagogy as the publication venue because they had an outstanding CFP for submissions related to “The Purpose of Education,” a topic I had wanted to teach for many years. After reaching out to the editor, I knew they were eager to showcase undergraduate voices and willing to work closely with students to refine their submissions. This project would not have been possible without Dr. Chris Friend, who, along with a team of dedicated readers willing to work with a quick turnaround time, made my pedagogical dream into a reality. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Dr. Friend and the Hybrid Pedagogy team, whose work to empower students and enact (not merely recite) the liberatory pedagogies of Paulo Freire and bell hooks certainly results in hours of unacknowledged labor, such as those spent working with me and my students on this project. In future iterations of this project, I look forward to discovering what other venues might publish student work, though I understand the commitment of Hybrid Pedagogy to empowering marginalized student voices to still be the exception, and not the rule, within academic publishing.

 

The final research projects in my classes are always creative, collaborative, and published online, and I am continually impressed by the way these assignments increase engagement and learning at the end of the semester. By allowing students to choose what story they will tell and how they will tell it, they have amazed me, producing stunning digital timelines on the history of public education; beautiful websites about their journeys to Queens College; original lyric poetry about microaggressions; and challenging lesson plans for teaching literature alongside history (many of these you can view here). My task as an instructor is helping these projects reach an audience beyond our classroom, and I saw Hybrid Pedagogy as one way of doing that. 

Process

Preparing eighteen undergraduates—most of whom were first-year, first generation, and English Language Learner (ELL) students—to co-author submissions to Hybrid Pedagogy required extensive discussion of how and why scholarly communication happens in particular channels; extensive planning, preparation, and collaboration with the journal’s editor; and scaffolding smaller assignments in and outside of the classroom.

 

I began working on this assignment several months before the semester even began, when I contacted the editor of Hybrid Pedagogy and worked out some guidelines for the project that would work with the Queens College semester schedule and the schedule of the journal’s reviewers. I wanted as much time as possible to immerse students in debates on education, while also fulfilling my department’s requirements for composition courses. Roughly the first half of the course (seven weeks, with some interruptions) was dedicated to readings on active learning, critical pedagogy, the role of technology in education, standardized testing, education funding, and segregated schooling. Students began to insert their own voices into these conversations through blog posts, class facilitations and discussions, and essay assignments. You can view the course website including the reading assignments here.

 

About midway through the semester, students were given assignments 3 (annotated bibliography) and 4 (co-authored article) together, in an effort to help them understand their bibliographies as research that would inform their co-authored articles.

Assignment 3: Annotated Bibliography (15%)

As a class, we will decide on several key issues that we want to research and write about related to the topic of education. Students will be placed into groups based on the topic they are most interested in. As a group, you will submit an annotated bibliography of sources (newspaper articles, books, scholarly journal articles) that you have read related to your topic. Each student will be responsible for four annotations, which must include at least one book or chapter from a book, one scholarly journal article, and one newspaper article.

Each entry in the bibliography will include an MLA citation for the source, followed by a paragraph-long annotation. The annotation paragraph should summarize and evaluate the source, and explain how it relates to your topic and to other sources you have read. As a group, you will write an introduction to the bibliography that places the various sources in relation to one another and explains how they contribute to your topic.

Important dates

  • Library day with Suzanne Li on Thursday, 11/3
  • Working session in computer lab on Tuesday, 11/8
  • Rough draft annotated bibliographies due in class on Thursday, 11/10
  • Final draft annotated bibliographies due in class on Tuesday, 11/15

 

Assignment 4: Co-authored submission to Hybrid Pedagogy, “The Purpose of Education” CFP (20%)

For this assignment, you will work in groups to submit an article to the scholarly, peer-reviewed journal Hybrid Pedagogy. Prior to this assignment, we will familiarize ourselves with the journal’s aims, audience, methodologies, requirements, and style. Your submission will be based on the research from your annotated bibliography.

Important dates

  • Conference call with Hybrid Pedagogy editor, Chris Friend on Thursday, 11/10
  • Possible computer class dates: 11/15, 11/17, 11/22
  • Rough draft of articles due to instructor by Monday, 11/21
  • Final drafts submitted to Hybrid Pedagogy by Sunday, 11/27
  • Revised submissions to Hybrid Pedagogy by Tuesday, 12/13

Developing research questions

About midway through the semester, we began reading more about Hybrid Pedagogy, including articles from the journal, articles about the journal, and the CFP for “The Purpose of Education” (and we discussed the CFP genre). In class, students began brainstorming research questions, which we discussed should 1) relate to the CFP 2) be a question they were generally interested in after the reading on education we had done so far and 3) not be something they already knew the answer to, since they would spend the rest of the semester doing research to better answer their question. I collected their questions in a google doc and we went through them as a class, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each, rewording some of them, and, importantly, discussing what *kind* of research one would need to do in order to answer each question (polling students, reading news articles, looking for research studies, reflecting on their own experiences, etc.). Before our next class, I typed up students’ questions, organized them into categories, and created this handout.

Groups

Like most undergraduates, I hated group projects, which consistently left me doing all the work while others received credit. It wasn’t until a professor assigned a research project that required collective thinking -- and actually showed us how much better our work could be with multiple minds put to a task -- that I became convinced that collaboration is a fundamental and teachable humanities skill. I share this anecdote with students, who regularly tell me that I am the only professor to ever acknowledge their collective hatred of collective work. By contrast, my assignments begin from the premise that we don’t actually know how to equitably distribute work -- that, if anything, our educations have taught us to compete, rather than collaborate, with the students sitting next to us. To address this, we discuss these guidelines for successful collaboration, and students develop contracts among themselves about how they will remain accountable to each other (deadlines, communication, etc.).

 

As any instructor who has tried group work will tell you, putting students into groups can be one of the most difficult tasks. I’ve tried many different approaches (based on the project they want to do, based on various skills, letting students choose) and the method I’ve settled on is a combination of all three. Before students arranged themselves into groups we did a skills inventory, in which I put on the board many of the skills that this project would require and invited students to add to the list as well.

 

Here is the list we came up with: 

Skills inventory

On index cards, students recorded three of these skills that they were best at and three that they knew they struggled with. I told them that they should be very deliberate in putting their groups together so that there is a balance of people's strengths (at least one person who is comfortable with Google Docs, someone who can proofread, a project manager, etc.). In the future, I want to emphasize this even more and double check that the groups they put themselves in have a balance of strengths and weaknesses.

 

After this skills inventory, I put five large pieces of poster paper around the room, labeled 1-5, one for each group. Equipped with this handout of questions, students were told that they would have forty minutes to break themselves up into three groups of four and two groups of three (eighteen students total) with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Each group was to use the questions on the handout to decide on a topic and research question and use the chart paper for brainstorming. We discussed some of the various methods for breaking into groups such as starting with what topics each student wanted to focus on or with their strengths and weaknesses. Once I was sure that students understood their task and had no more questions, I left the room, letting them know I would be back in forty minutes to see what they had come up with.

 

While I waited impatiently in my office, biting my nails and wondering what students were doing, they were busy organizing themselves into groups and deciding on the following questions that would become the topics for their annotated bibliographies and eventual articles:

  • How can higher education be improved so that it doesn’t feel like a waste of time, energy, and resources?
  • What can educators in the U.S. learn from educators in other countries to improve teaching and learning methods?
  • What are the tangible results of educating a nation and how do you measure?
  • What is the purpose of college besides getting a job?
  • How can teachers and students work together to prepare students for employment after graduation? 

Students put themselves into groups based on questions and skills
Students put themselves into groups based on topics and skills

Writing, revising, and conference calls

With their groups and research questions established, we spent the next week in the library and computer lab working on students’ annotated bibliographies. In the library, students learned from the college’s education librarian, Suzanne Li, how to access sources using the library’s databases and then in the computer lab they began finding articles related to their topic and practicing the research skills they learned from Ms. Li.

 

The annotated bibliographies were students’ first forays into collaboration. While they were each responsible for four entries in the bibliography, they had to co-author an introduction and edit each other’s writing. To achieve this, they used Google Docs, which we had practiced using all semester when students peer reviewed each other’s essays.

 

The following class, students prepared brief pitches of their articles to discuss with Dr. Friend. During our conference call, Dr. Friend introduced the students to the journal, including why the journal exists and how it is maintained. These insights into the world of publishing encouraged students to see writing as a social activity and to consider the material conditions that enable conversations. Each group took a turn pitching their ideas to Dr. Friend, who graciously pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of each proposed project and made suggestions for how each group might tailor their writing specifically for the journal’s audience. This conference call was invaluable and in the future I would want to have students check in with the editor again later in the semester to report on their progress and ask follow up questions.

 

In the following three classes (22-24 out of 28), we met in the computer lab for students to work on their articles. This was important for several reasons. At a school like Queens College, where most of the students work full or part time, it can’t be assumed that they have time to collaborate on such assignments outside of the classroom. In addition, having students work on the project in class allowed me to check in with each group regularly, especially to observe how work was being distributed and ensure that the burden was not falling disproportionately on some students at the expense of others. While working on final research papers can often feel like a lonely, isolating experience, having students co-author their articles in the computer lab (even as they continued to work on them for homework) created a sense of community both within and among the groups. Much of the anxiety, fear, and misery surrounding final research papers was replaced with laughter as students wrote alongside one another in both physical and virtual proximity.

 

I gave students feedback on their rough drafts, which happened to fall on a week we had off from class, so their implementation of this feedback was primarily done remotely. We had one final computer lab session for students to finish their revising and proofreading and to submit their articles if they had time (some needed the full class period for revising and ended up submitting at home). For that final class, students used this checklist to ensure that their articles were ready for submission.

 

Following the submission of students’ articles we had a celebration in class. I wanted to celebrate students’ hard work regardless of the decisions they received from the editors. I wanted them to feel proud of having co-authored articles to a scholarly journal, something few beginning writers ever have the opportunity to do.

 

The timeline Dr. Friend and I had established early on allowed students to receive feedback from the journal’s editors prior to the end of the semester. We both acknowledged that if students wanted to implement the editors’ feedback and continue working on their articles towards possible publication, this process would extend beyond what was feasible in one semester. I made myself available to students, should they choose to continue working on their articles, but this would not be part of their requirements for the course.

 

Of the five articles students submitted, one was accepted contingent upon revisions, two received a revise and resubmit, and two were rejected (with very thoughtful feedback from the editors). Students had worked so hard on their writing that I wanted to make sure it was published for people to read, even if it wasn’t in the journal. I knew how busy students were, that this was a required course, and that many students had no interest in writing, so it was unlikely that any would opt to continue doing the revisions necessary for publication in the journal.

 

To ensure that students’ writings would still be available online, I developed a revision and publication assignment that gave students various options for implementing the feedback from the Hybrid Pedagogy editors and sharing their work. The assignment gave students three options for proceeding with their project:

  1. revising their articles in preparation to resubmit them to Hybrid Pedagogy (this option was available to the three groups that received “Accept with minor revisions” or “Revise and resubmit”)
  2. revising their articles into blog posts that they would post to the “Scholarly Voices” group for undergraduate writing on HASTAC (this option was available to all groups)
  3. revising their articles and submitting them solely to the instructor (which was available to all groups, but only to be used as a last resort if students had a pressing reason why their writing should not be published online)

To help students decide which option to pursue for their final assignment, we discussed the benefits and risks associated with putting one’s writing online. We talked about how HASTAC’s community of users might benefit from their writing, but also the fact that this piece of writing would be attached to their name and available in search results for many years to come. I wanted to make sure that students felt comfortable publishing their writing online, which is why I provided the third option to ensure student privacy. However, the four groups that received either “revise and resubmit” or whose articles were rejected all decided to revise their writing and post it for others to read on HASTAC. The group of students whose article was accepted with minor revisions chose option one and began to implement the feedback from the editors. For months after our semester ended, these students continued to work on their article, addressing countless queries and copyedits from the editors and looping me into the conversation when they had questions. Their article, “The Ultimate Life Experience: Preparing Students for the World Beyond the Classroom” was published on August 30, 2017 and I could not be more proud of them.

 

Selected student reflections

“This course was the first class that I had to work in a group for my final project. Although it was challenging in getting everyone to contribute fairly, it helped all of us grow as readers and writers. Each of us had an assigned role, but depended on each other greatly to have the best possible final paper to submit to Hybrid Pedagogy. Despite of the fact that my group’s paper wasn’t accepted, that wasn’t our main goal regardless. Our main goal was to successfully work together as one to create a better piece that would otherwise be produced by one of us individually.”

 

“I usually do not enjoy group projects, because either someone else and myself will get stuck doing the entire project, or I alone end up having to do the majority of the project. That was not the case with the group projects we did. We each had roles we played in the group that we chose, we were also responsible for our own, individual sections. After creating our parts, we would peer review everyone’s work and try to make it cohesive. I feel like our process worked especially well with our final project. We made many revisions to our work together, debated grammatical structure, tried not to overuse words, and did our best to create one voice that spoke for all of us together.”

 

Conclusion

Every semester in their course reflections, students confirm my hypothesis that writing for a public audience strengthens their work. Knowing that their work will be read beyond our classroom allows students to confront questions about audience, such as what they assume their audience to already know (vs. what they have to explain) and how certain ideas might come across to different readers. Because Hybrid Pedagogy prefers hyperlinking to MLA or another citation format, students learned to think critically about citation practices as more than just a set of seemingly arbitrary rules.

 

Rather than just writing to please the instructor and receive a good grade, students come to care about their writing in ways that are hard to quantify. I saw this happen as I walked around the computer lab and listened to each group raising questions about their articles: “Do I have to provide another example here?” “Which of these sentences should come first so that it’s easiest to read?” “Is this a strong enough topic sentence?” Admittedly, some version of this usually occurs in peer review even when students aren’t writing for publication, but the frequency of this critical feedback on each other’s writing dramatically increased through this publication assignment.

 

I didn’t anticipate the joy and deep sense of conviviality that would emerge in the last few weeks as we worked on these projects. At a school like Queens College, where the majority of students commute, it can be difficult to find the kinds of communities that research has shown to increase student performance. There was something so rewarding about spending so much of the semester working on these projects and then having the finished products published online -- it really felt like our class had accomplished something.

Appendix

Schedule

Several weeks/months beforehand: contact journal editors, establish a timeline for submission, feedback, and revisions

Course organization

Weeks 1-7:  Readings on key debates in education (view here)

Week 8: Articles from Hybrid Pedagogy, Purpose of Education CFP, submission guidelines, brainstorm questions, instructor leaves the room for students to get into groups, skill share

Week 9: Background research, work on annotated bibliographies for articles

Week 10: Conference call with Chris Friend, Hybrid Pedagogy editor, finish bibliographies and begin working on articles

Week 11: Work on articles

Week 12: Rough draft of articles due

Week 13: Revise articles and submit to Hybrid Pedagogy

Week 14: Revision assignment - students received feedback from the journal’s editors. They then had the option of revising and resubmitting or posting to HASTAC.

 

Course syllabus

Question brainstorm

Guidelines for successful collaboration

Checklist for submitting to Hybrid Pedagogy

Revision and publication assignment

 

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