I have been playing Warcraft (II; III; WoW) for over a decade. In addition, I'm a big fan of WoWWiki and have been a user since 2005. I probably won't be making too many edits -- there are much smarter folks doing that work and I am busy reading a lot of WoWWiki pages as part of my dissertation on collaborative writing, Web 2.0, wikis, and fan/player communities. Feel free to email me with any questions or post to my discussion page (rlhunter [at] wisc [dot] edu). You can, sometimes, find me on the Uther server, Alliance.
- You can also learn more about me here.
- You can comment on the research project/proposal: User_talk:Dakhma/Proposal_feedback. I haven't updated it with any new info regarding the chapter specifics, but you get a general idea of where I'm headed with it.
I've just completed one chapter on patterns of collaboration. In it I look at what WoWWikians are talking about (where attention is focused) on the talk pages of several character featured article. By coding and counting, I found that there was a predominant focus on the context of writing articles. That is, debating facts and theories regarding these characters in order to write the most accurate articles possible. In fact, when the focus was on improving the article:
- 75% of talk focused on informing about writing context;
- 7% focused on informing about writing content;
- 7% focused on questions about writing context.
(I'm considering putting a draft of it here, but with it sent out to a journal for consideration, publication in another venue isn't really appropriate, but I'm happy to send copies to those interested with the agreement that it stays within the community and offline.
In another chapter that I'm finishing up in the next couple weeks, I'm looking at the nature of collaborations between WoWWikians. So far, the predominant pattern show that WoWWikians actually collaborate quite well and demonstrate many of the qualities associated with successful collaboration:
- flexible and respectful to others;
- attentive, analytical listeners;
- able to speak and write clearly;
- able to dispute and share authority, to lead and to follow;
- open to criticism but confident in their own abilities,
- and ready to engage in creative conflict”
- able to share "ownership" content produced
There were a few cases where collaboration broke down because (usually) one participant's behavior didn't align with these qualities (which are, actually, found within several of WoWWiki's policies and guidelines). Of course, my analysis is only of several character articles, which is only a fraction of the talk on WoWWiki.
That's the update! One more chapter (updating theories of writer/reader interactions and hypertext) after these two as well as the intro and conclusion; then, dissertation done.
|This user has been playing since Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness.|
Dakhma's Research ProjectEdit
Members of the WoWWiki community are invited to participate in a research study about the collaborative writing on WoWWiki.com. My hope is to work closely with the community to accurately describe patterns collaborative writing activities such as reading and responding, collecting and recollecting information, and writing and revising on WoWWiki.
Much of what I'll be looking at will be interactions (talk) on article discussion pages and the Village Pump, and I hope to follow up that research (eventually) with interviews about your experiences contributing to the wiki.
The Research ProposalEdit
- Just a word of warning that this was from about a year ago, and projects change. See update on the project above.
Writing WoWWiki: Collaborative Writing and Social Interaction in a Gamer Community
- Note: The entire document is located here.
Responding to the CallEdit
The early twenty-first century is a time of cultural change in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) are playing a significant role in life and offer new possibilities for social interaction and community. These technological and social changes are also affecting the U.S. educational system. Calls for action on the part of the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative advocate looking outside the classroom for the literacies that matter in the 21st century so as to incorporate them into school curricula. Once identified, these literacies are seen as teachable skills students must learn in the classroom and transfer to situations outside of school to achieve future success. Composition, too, is in the early stages of not only paying attention to, but also incorporating Web 2.0 into writing instruction.1 In fact, with the emergence of Web 2.0, Composition appears to be responding to repeated calls (Gere, 1994; Russell, 1999; Kress, 1999; Yancey, 2004) for research supporting the development of an undergraduate curriculum that weaves together students’ non-school and school writing, including how online literate activities might productively inform writing instruction; however, much of what we see often explores teaching with new technologies with little or no attention to the “extracurricular” literate activities (Gere, 1994) of the individuals and groups who are often the first to employ them (Jenkins, 2006) or the social and affective factors motivating participation. One goal of my project seeks pedagogical implications of Web 2.0 technologies by closely examining the collaborative writing practices of one community in order to better inform how we draw upon Web-based communities of practice. To be clear, Web 2.0 is collaboration. Writing on blogs, wikis, and social networking sites, for example, enable social interaction and collective action. Following the work of Gere (1987) (and other scholars examining the collaborative self-sponsored learning and writing) understanding how Web 2.0 technologies shape and are shaped by culture and how they have impacted our relationships with in formation and each other and our processes of composing becomes key as more and more people form groups to collectively solve problems and overcome social isolation. The focus and the trajectory of my dissertation research emerges along these lines. My project will explore relatively non-explored territory within rhetoric and composition’s scholarship concerning collaborative learning and writing groups. I will investigate many of the collaborative writing activities present on past research such as reading and responding, writing and revising, and negotiating. My study fills a particular gap in the research in that it considers non-face to face, asynchronous and synchronous collaborative interaction via ICTs.
Site and Scope of the StudyEdit
Like many videogames, Blizzard’s MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW) promotes various types of literacy (e.g., the abilities to navigate various semiotic systems which can often mix the aural, visual, and textual in the game world). In the case of WoWWiki.com (a portmanteau of World of Warcraft and wiki), print literacy takes center-stage. WoWWiki’s use of the web-based and open source wiki software application Mediawiki to manage content production demonstrates how the collaborative composition of hypertextual, encyclopedic articles unfolds in a space that extends and enhances the game-play experience by adding another layer of participation and social interaction to an already highly social experience. Not only can we consider World of Warcraft an “affinity space” (Gee, 2004) -- a gaming community brought together and built upon shared interests, knowledge, practices, and experiences -- but we can also see WoWWiki as an affinity space in its own right which, further, produces knowledge for the consumption of the larger Warcraft community. Given the lack of studies within rhetoric and composition on collaborative writing in fan communities using Web 2.0 technology, this project has the potential to fill what appears to be a major gap in collaborative writing group research by connecting scholarship in computers & writing and collaborative learning & writing. With this study, I hope to understand and explain how collaborative knowledge production and participation in this informal learning environment is a socially situated practice and collaborative process, in order to inform collaborative writing theory and pedagogy. For instance, in the classroom the difficulty in collaborative and cooperative learning is getting students to work together effectively. With WoWWiki we see many of elements of successful cooperative learning identified by Johnson and Johnson (e.g., positive interdependence and promotive interaction). Individual members of the WoWWiki community share interests in Warcraft and, in turn, are committed to the success of the wiki project; they encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts to write hypertextual encyclopedic articles in order to compile information regarding the game World of Warcraft, official Warcraft lore, and information from previous Warcraft RTS games, table-top role-playing games, novels, comics, and graphic novels.
What is a Wiki?Edit
The word “wiki” is Hawaiian for quick and was used by Ward Cunningham in the name of the software he created in 1995 -- the first wiki, WikiWikiWeb. Early on wikis were, for example, adopted as collaborative project management tools for technical users. Today you’ll find that many of the most popular wikis are still for technical users such as those for Adobe Labs, Apache, Linux projects (Ubuntu, Debian), DreamHost, Open Office, Java, and Creative Commons. And, in the wake of 9/11, we see the development of Intellipedia, which consists of three wikis used by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as other national-security related agencies and federal departments. The wiki, then, is a “technology of cooperation” (Rheingold, 2002) and while the best known wiki is Wikipedia, wikis are widely used by fans of popular culture to collect and construct information databases on, for example, television shows (e.g., Battlestar Galactica), movies (e.g., Star Wars), and video games (e.g., Halo). The use of web-based and open source wiki software applications such as Mediawiki lower the barriers to participation for those who share similar interests to easily work together on community endeavors.
What is WoWWiki?Edit
Established in 2004 and functioning generally like Wikipedia, the most popular wiki for the Warcraft universe, WoWWiki, is a user-editable web-based database of information made up entirely of user contributions. Members of the WoWWiki community write hypertextual encyclopedic articles in order to compile data regarding e.g., non-player characters (NPCs), locations, and Warcraft lore -- a body of knowledge that encompasses not only the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (WoW) but also information from previous Warcraft real-time strategy (RTS) video games, table-top role-playing games, and a series of fantasy novels. WoWWiki, with its more than 160,000 registered users has a potential audience (and pool of contributors) of more than 9 million World of Warcraft players in addition to those who play the table-top role-playing games and the Warcraft real-time strategy video games and read the books.2 Although WoWWiki is just one of many fan-based and “commons-based peer-production” (Benkler, 2006) communities -- where participation takes form in collective networks brought together by interest in a particular topic and participation in a shared repertoire -- it is simply the largest fan-produced wiki in existence, and together, the community has written more than 56,000 articles (April 2008) about the Warcraft universe in the three and a half years since the wiki’s creation. WoWWiki is also reported to be one of the top 1000 sites in the world and the 2nd most popular English-speaking wiki (by traffic) in the world. WoWWiki was established by a user known as Rustak, and the current lead administrator is Kirkburn. In May of 2007, WoWWiki moved to Wikia, a free wiki hosting site (wiki farm) and was founded by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and Angela Beesley. While WoWWiki is still managed by lead administrators from before the move to Wikia, WoWWiki is now an ad supported site and is “run” by Wikia.
What Need Does WoWWiki Serve? Edit
This particular wiki is one site that has served a need within the Warcraft community that Blizzard, the producer of Warcraft, and other websites have not. For instance, other websites such as Allakhazam.com (a database that covers all the major massively-multiplayer online role-playing games, i.e., MMORPGs) have addressed the needs of the community of World of Warcraft (WoW) players by supplying information about in-game quests and statistics and locations of in-world items. Thottbot.com is another popular database; its sole focus is WoW. However, in the cases of both of these databases, players have a limited role in contributing data. For the most part players interact (share information and help one another) by responding on pages tied to particular information in a fashion similar to responding to an individual blog post or on hosted discussion forums (new to Thotbott.com). In the case of Allakhazam, players can submit information and images through email that may be included in the database. Like WoWWiki, though, Thottbot, too, is a user-created database, but whereas WoWWiki contributors actually compose articles, Thottbot contributors upload data from the WoW game via a software plug-in that gathers information automatically and updates/adds that information to the Thottbot database as information arrives from users. With regards to Thottbot, active participation beyond installing the plug-in is unnecessary. A third database has quickly become a leading WoW resource. WoWHead also leverages player participation; players install an addon to WoW, and the client automatically collects data as long as players keep the client activated.
In contradistinction to sites such as Allakhazam, Thottbot, and WoWHead, contributions to WoWWiki are more similar to single-authored text-based (ASCII) game walkthroughs or fan websites for other video games, in that a need is seen and someone sets out to fill the gap; while those are generally solitary acts, WoWWiki is a massively collaborative project. WoWWiki is written by players and with players for players.
Collaborative Writing Groups and Learning Edit
There are many topics regarding writing groups and collaborative learning I am sure to explore during the course of my research: conceptions of authorship as inherently social and collaborative (LeFevre, 1987; Gere 1987; Ede and Lunsford, 1992; Thralls, 1992; Trimbur and Braun, 1992; Spigelman, 2000); consensus and dissensus (Myers, 1986; Smit, 1989; Trimbur, 1989, Janangelo, 1996); identity and power in electronic environments (Selfe, 1992) and face to face work (Rogers and Horton, 1992) and gender and race in writing groups (Lay, 1992; Westbrook, 2004); school-sponsored and self-sponsored literate activity, including self-education (Gere, 1987, 1992, 1994; Moss, et al. 2004; Westbrook, 2004; Spigelman, 2004); hierarchical and nonhierarchical writing groups (Gere, 1987; Ede and Lunsford, 1990; Locker, 1992, Westbrook, 2004); affective factors and community (Gere, 1987, 1992, 1994; Smit, 1989), and patterns of deliberative and epideictic responses in self-sponsored writing groups (Spigelman, 2004); workplace collaborative writing (Ede and Lunsford, 1992; Locker, 1992; Cross, 1994); and individually authored texts (Spigelman, 2004; Bruffee, 1984) or collaboratively authored texts (Ede and Lunsford, 1992 and Nowacek and del Sol, 2004).
In this section, I offer a limited review of some of the literature regarding the history of collaborative writing and writing groups that I see directly connected to my research regarding WoWWiki. While part of my task is to connect the literate activity in the WoWWiki community to the history and theory of collaborative writing groups, my research WoWWiki presents aspects of collaboration not yet explored.
History of writing groups and collaborative learning Edit
Kenneth Bruffee (1984) is credited with introducing collaborative learning to the composition studies, and in “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind,’” he explains that collaborative learning began to interest college teachers in the 1980s but was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s, emerging, in part out of the political efforts of several British secondary education teachers during the Vietnam era. Bruffee cites as an exemplar of collaborative learning, MLJ Abercrombie’s use of group discussion with medical students for collaborative problem solving and learning concerning diagnoses. In the U.S., he explains, higher education during the 1970s was “desperate” to find a solution to the common problem of “all” students -- as they had “difficulty adapting to the traditional or ‘normal’ college classroom” (637). The solution was an alternative to the traditional relationship wherein students relied solely on teachers and came to understand that “writing is a social artifact” (423). Instead, peer-tutoring and various modes of classroom group work in which the teacher could work indirectly by establishing problems and organizing students to teach each other broke down the barrier of status and the power dynamic between teachers and students. Students could learn and produce writing within a “community of equals: peers” (423). However, as Anne Ruggles Gere (1987) explains in Writing Groups: History, Theory, and Implications, collaborative learning and writing have existed in America since before the establishment of the United States -- the earliest identified by Gere is Benjamin Franklin’s Junto (1728). Franklin’s Junto was one example of a “mutual improvement” group that can be dated back to colonial times and focused on pooling resources and knowledge for each member’s educational development: “Self-education groups frequently employed lectures and debates, but writing also played an important role” (34). Self-education groups became more organized in the early nineteenth century with the Lyceum movement, and within less than a decade of the first Lyceum group there numbered roughly 3000 groups in fifteen states.3 Though Gere notes that these groups were “largely male provinces,” women’s groups saw a major growth after the Civil War as cultural changes allowed for women to go to college, and many middle-class and widowed women turned to writing to support themselves (35-42). While participation in these groups was voluntary and operated outside of the confines of the classroom, similar voluntary, student-sponsored groups developed on campuses as well. In the early 18th century, college literary societies emerged in response to several factors. One central concern was to discuss political issues of the day; further, the lack of activities common to college campuses today created a need for “social outlets” in the 19th century. Literary societies filled this gap in the social lives of students. In addition, libraries at this time were “off limits” to many students, namely underclassmen. Groups of students would, then, build private collections. Unlike fraternities and sororities, these societies focused on intellectual stimulation, and their activities included “orations, compositions, forensic debates, disputations, humorous dialogues, essays, or music/drama productions [. . .]” with one goal being to “enhance writers’ audience awareness” (Gere, Writing Groups 12-13). The formation of fraternities and both the increased funding for libraries and the establishment of departments of English led to the decline of literary societies: “These new departments absorbed most of the literary discussion and writing instruction formerly carried out in literary societies . . .” (Gere, Writing Groups 14). However, one activity English composition “rarely” included was peer review. This was one way for some societies to continue on; indeed, Gere explains students at the University of Illinois were allowed to turn in writing they did in their societies for their required coursework. And, the work the students did was “‘looked upon as part, and not an unimportant part either, of the students’ training’” (Frankenburger qtd. in Gere, Writing Groups 14). The late 19th and early 20th century saw the progression of these groups activities (i.e., writing/response groups) from outside the classroom to inside the classroom and led to and included classroom-based research on the use of and effects of writing groups -- for instance, giving students a ‘real’ audience and lightening the load of writing assessment for teachers. Gere further traces the development of writing groups in schools to four philosophical traditions from the late 19th century -- humanism, social meliorism, developmentalism, and social efficiency -- and how each influenced the uses of writing groups at that time and, later, by Ken Macrorie, Donald Murray, James Moffett, and Kenneth Bruffee -- each of which has a varying purposes for the use of writing groups: Macrorie’s “helping circles” and students improving the world with the power of language (social meliorism); Murray’s emphasis on writing as a skill (social efficiency); Moffett’s view of writing as moving from egocentrism and the value of feedback (developmentalism); and Bruffee’s emphasis on students’ being involved in “each other’s intellectual, academic, and social development” (humanism) (Bruffee qtd in Gere, Writing Groups 20-21). Gere sketches this history of writing groups inside and outside the classroom in order to bring it to light and ask readers interested in writing groups to look to this research and teaching (included in the books comprehensive bibliography) from before the 1960s and the Dartmouth Conference which was not being explored. That call still doesn’t appear to have been answered, though Gere’s influence on collaborative learning and writing groups is clear in any work that makes distinctions between self-sponsored and school-sponsored groups as well as hierarchical and nonhierarchical groups (Ede and Lunsford, 1990; Locker, 1992; Spigelman 2000, 2004; Westbrook, 2004; Moss et al. 2004).
Distinctions between self-sponsored and school-sponsored writing groups and hierarchical and ‘dialogic’ writing groupsEdit
In self-sponsored groups authority is in the hands of the participants, the members of the group. Members can negotiate authority between members, but ultimately, individuals always have the choice to join, stay, or leave the group; in addition, groups “usually begin with some natural affinity of occupation [...], of status [...], or shared concerns. [. . .] This affinity usually implies or leads to a mixture of friendship and goodwill and respect among members” (Gere, Writing Groups 50). Gere and Roop (1992), for instance, found in their research regarding 19th century women's’ literary clubs that the “club experience clearly points to the power of friendship and community as motivation to pursue reading and writing . . . . The role of good company, of friendship, is often critical to effective collaborative relationships, though seldom mentioned by researchers” (17). And though David Smit (1989) describes "Some Difficulties with Collaborative Learning" (i.e., he states that research up to that time had not demonstrated that collaborative learning led to improved writing) what he does support is the value of the increase in positive attitudes toward writing that result from working in groups.4 That said, much of Gere’s work on self-sponsored writing taking place outside the classroom attributes positive attitudes toward writing to friendship, affinity, caring, and respect (1987, 1992, 1994). But where authority lies and how authority within the group is structured are also important: “Because authority resides ultimately in individual members [. . .], the relationship among them is essentially nonhierarchical and gives more emphasis to cooperation than competition . . .” (Writing Groups 50). Nonhierarchical, self-sponsored writing groups are distinct from school-sponsored writing groups because in school-sponsored groups the authority resides with the teacher. The teacher usually determines how the assignment will be completed, the topic, group make-up, and rules for group interactions. According to Gere, this kind of structure and grading emphasize competition between students and students to “emphasize rules rather than relationships”; what is missing are considerations of students’ interests and choice: “hierarchy undercuts the empowerment of individuals in self-sponsored writing groups” (Writing Groups 51). The distinctions between hierarchical and ‘dialogic’ modes of collaboration which Ede and Lunsford describe in Singular Texts/Plural Authors shares similarities to what Gere found in considering writing groups inside and outside of school. In the process of Ede and Lunsford’s research on workplace writing they learned how their own processes of collaboration (i.e., ‘dialogic’) contrasted from that the observed with professional writers:
This form of collaboration [hierarchical] is carefully, and often rigidly, structured, driven by highly specific goals, and carried out by people playing clearly defined and delimited roles. These goals are most often designated by someone outside of and hierarchically superior to the immediate collaborative group or by a senior member or leader of the group. Because productivity and efficiency are the essence in this mode of collaboration, the realities of multiple voices and shifting authority are seen as difficulties to be overcome and resolved. [. . .] This mode of collaborative writing is, we would argue, highly productive, typically conservative, and most often, in our experience a masculine mode of discourse. (Singular 133)
Geoffrey Cross reports that his and other studies in the workplace support the view that men and women communicate differently and that these gendered ways of communicating “can produce misunderstandings between the sexes” (130). Based on Gere’s description of writing groups in the composition classroom, where the teacher has the authority, we can see how the lack of particular affective factors -- such as affinity or intrinsic need or the ability to leave the class -- cause difficulties in collaborative activities in the workplace, or any writing group for that matter, and gendered ways of communication must also be factored in. Nonetheless, Ede and Lunsford argue for the potentials of collaborative writing in the classroom and the institutional structures from within which they operate: “collaborative writing holds out the promise for a plurality of power and authority among teacher and students, what Ohmann calls an ‘opening up’ of the classroom” (“Collaborative Authorship” 435). The path to this ‘opening up’ begins with what Ede and Lunsford describe in their own mode of collaboration as the ‘dialogic’ mode of collaboration, which is “not as widespread in the professions we studied” (Singular 133). The dialogic mode is,
loosely structured and the roles enacted within it are fluid: one person may occupy multiple and shifting roles as a project progresses. In this mode, the process of articulating goals is often as important as the goals themselves and sometimes even more important. Furthermore, those participating in dialogic collaboration generally value the creative tension inherent in multivoiced and multivalent ventures. [. . .] In dialogic collaboration, this group effort is seen as an essential part of production -- rather than a recovery -- of knowledge and as a means of individual satisfaction within the group. [. . .] [B]ecause most who tried to describe it [dialogic collaboration] were women, and because it seemed so clearly ‘other,’ we think of this mode as predominantly feminine. (emphasis mine, Singular 133)
These descriptions of dialogic versus hierarchical collaboration and self-sponsored versus school- or workplace-sponsored writing groups continues to inform recent work in rhetoric and composition on writing groups and frames analyses of successful and failed cases of collaborative writing groups.
The problem of consensus in collaborative learning and writing groupsEdit
One of the major concerns raised in response to Kenneth Bruffee’s “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’” is Bruffee’s emphasis on consensus building as the way knowledge is constructed and maintained in a community, and we can still see this concern in recent books on ICTs and collectivism such as The Wisdom of Crowds (2004), Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2007), and Here Comes Everybody (2008). Greg Myers (1986) criticizes this Bruffee’s goal for being “idealistic:”
while Bruffee shows that reality can be seen as a social construct, he does not give us any way to criticize this construct. Having discovered the role of consensus in the production of knowledge, he takes this consensus as something that just is, rather than a something that might be good or bad. (Myers 167)
For Myers, then, understanding the internal operations of collaboration and consensus in organizations and groups is not enough because it might promote conformity and support and reproduce cultural and economics systems of authority because “the ideology of the oppressive system gives them the structures through which they make sense of their world” (156), and these “structures” include the education system, classroom, and the teacher as figure of authority. Yet, dissensus is a prominent feature in collaborative writing literature. In “Intricate Inscriptions: Negotiating Conflict Between Collaborative Writers,” Joseph Janangelo (1996) offers “precautions” teachers should take to “enact more responsible pedagogy of collaboration . . .” born from an example in his teaching experience, one that “was riddled with conflict” (91-92). What Janangelo came to learn from this failed collaborative project was that through his “intrusion” as peacemaker clashing with one student’s valuing Objectivist moral theory and “violate [Ayn Rand’s] central rule of profitable collaboration” (98). Janangelo, then, offers suggestions such as alerting students to possibility of conflict becoming an “integral feature of group work” and modeling desired practices; understanding that consensus may not be achieved and should not be enforced in pursuit of what Spellmeyer describes as an “utopian desire for an all-inclusive, unconstrained community” (80). In the end, Janangelo concludes that “collaboration can [. . .] become a site of loss and frustration” as “a pedagogy inspired by compassion can be interpreted as one driven by privilege and exploitation” (102) and that it is unlikely that any method can fairly negotiate conflicts to the satisfaction of all participants (103). Indeed, working from Spellmeyer and Trimbur, he suggests, we “create a more complex portrait of collaboration” (103), one in which we can borrow Trimbur’s (1989) concept of “oppositional consensus” as “valuable in that consensus can be seen “not as agreement that reconciles differences through ideal conversation but rather as the desire of humans to live and work together through differences” (Trimbur, Consensus, 615). Two recent studies describe how self-sponsored writing groups who’s interactions do present complex patterns of negotiation of differing perspectives in productive ways that neither author would characterize as ‘utopian.’ Candace Spigelman’s (2004), “‘Species’ of Rhetoric: Deliberative and Epideictic Models in Writing Group Settings,” examines the ways writers respond to each other’s writing and how, as readers, they attempt to persuade authors to take particular courses of action in their revisions and, as authors, wrestle to maintain control of their texts. She describes how group members alternated or mixed their uses of deliberative (i.e., a focus on issues that warrant a particular revision) or epideictic (i.e., praise or negative criticism) methods. Spigelman argues that for writing groups to function effectively, they need to learn to use both methods. Evelyn Westbrook’s (2004) study of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop (SCWW) focuses on the writing group as a ‘contact zone’ (Pratt, 1991) in which dissensus is often present. Her research calls into questions the assumption concerning writing groups being “tiresomely alike” -- which she explains “probably originates from writing groups’ historical roots in mutual improvement societies” which Gere tells us often formed around factors that made the members alike such as common interests and concerns -- because writing groups in the SCWW are quite diverse (231). Indeed, they “often foreground not harmony and consensus, but conflict and difference” (232). Further, alliances among members sometimes did follow along demographic lines such as race and gender, yet they also formed arbitrarily -- the members exhibited “malleable identities” that supported the group’s goal to get writers to critically look at their writing from other perspectives, so “SCWW writers cannot easily dismiss or exclude another member as completely ‘other’” (242, 244-45).6 Difference and diversity in the makeup of the group was critical to how this group functioned. What these studies and others demonstrate is fears of the ‘problem of the herd,’ though valid, may be overstated, at least with the collaborative structures of self-sponsored, nonhierarchical writing groups.
Studying an Online Collaborative Writing GroupEdit
In the conclusion to Writing Groups Inside and Outside the Classroom (2004), Moss, Highberg, and Nicolas identify technology as “conspicuously absent” in the collection and ask how technology might change the face to face, real-time dynamic of conversation. My study responds to that gap. The study of online collaborative writing groups presents several difficulties not found in face to face studies of collaborative writing. First, previous studies have either considered single-authored texts and peer response in writing groups or multiple-authored texts in, for example, the sciences or in the workplace. WoWWiki on the other hand, includes plural authors and plural texts in a context where contributions belong to the community and are editable by anyone.7 Ownership or distribution of credit, then, as in studies of workplace writing, can be tricky. Although the wiki’s “History” page for each article does save each version of a page and log who did what, so each stage in an article’s development is accessible, contributing to an article doesn’t entirely occur in that space and collaboration isn’t always guaranteed. In some cases an individual author may be responsible for an entire article and never (or weeks or months after the original publishing) receive feedback from readers or have others edit the article. So, while the affordances of the Web and the wiki can potentially result in immediate interaction with others, this isn’t always the case. The wiki itself does not allow for or promote synchronous communications that we would expect in a face to face writing group or how the structure of the workplace may force coworkers to collaborate on a document. In other cases on WoWWiki, however, reader response or action (in the form of editing and feedback) can occur soon after initial publishing, and writers can solicit feedback from the community. Therefore, where collaboration occurs can be complicated. While WoWWiki administrators encourage collaboration regarding wiki articles, guidelines and policies, and technical matters to take place on the Village Pump, the community does use an Internet Relay Channel (IRC) for synchronous communications. Though IRC chat often takes the form of socializing -- talking about matter such as news about technology or discussions about WoW itself, members do talk about the wiki. Tracking where collaboration happens is not, then a simple matter of sitting in on the group -- similar to watching the ‘Discussion’ page for an article -- because discussions concerning an article might occur on the Village Pump or IRC in ways that might resemble talk about a workplace document occurring in sites outside the office space. Unlike talk occurring between only some of the contributors to a workplace document at the water cooler or in the elevator or parking lot, however, instances of talk on the the wiki are recorded and accessible. The archived IRC talk, then, is less likely to be visited. The issue (or problem) of consensus will also be of interest during my investigation. Affinity, at least in with regards to the interest in improving writing, may be a limited factor in the ‘problem of the herd.’ In fact, dissensus is evident in much of the talk I have collected on WoWWiki. Possible causes might be a sense of a certain level of anonymity resulting from the use of pseudonyms and lack of identifying demographic characteristics such as age, race, and gender, as suggested by Selfe (1992) as well as, following Westbrook, the level of diversity in the community. WoWWikians are largely male, perhaps entirely so, though they do represent several European nationalities.8 Writing on WoWWiki also resembles workplace writing more than the self-sponsored writing groups in previous research because self-improvement or improving one’s own writing are not explicit goals; productivity, that is, working on the project of collecting and disseminating information regarding Warcraft is. Yet, these activities are self-sponsored, and this community is brought together by affinity. WoWWiki then might be considered a hybrid community.
Contributors to WoWWiki are participating in a multi-layered social space largely predicated on participation in other highly interactive social spaces (e.g., the MMO, RTS, and table-top games). This social interaction takes form in activities such as writing articles together and negotiating meaning and practice. Shared interests drive active participation in this informal and extracurricular site of knowledge production. The study of their literacy practices using a wiki will inform collaborative and cooperative theory and practice and begin to draw connections and distinctions between writing pedagogy and how collaboration and social interaction unfolds within this fan community. Accordingly, I propose to work from the following questions:
- How can WoWWiki help us better understand the complex social and affective factors undergirding highly motivated and engaged writing activity occurring in fan communities?
- What new media literacies (Jenkins et al., 2006) are present on WoWWiki which might help researchers and writing teachers better understand how writing with wikis change the ways people write?
- How well does the wiki serve the community’s needs? What affordances and what constraints come with adopting the wiki?
- How does collaboration in this online space differ from the methods described in previous studies of classroom and extracurricular collaboration? And, what are the pedagogical implications of these differences?