Ten People, One Article?

How a Group of Early Childhood Educators Used Web-Based Collaborative Tools to

Write an Article for Young Children

"See a typo, fix it. Have an idea, leave it!" Warren Buckleitner (9/4/08)

Using Google Docs, email, conference calls and an email distribution list made it possible to bring diverse group of researchers and practitioners together, with one common goal. This would not have been possible ten, or even five years ago.

INTRODUCTION: Can a group of early childhood educators scattered around four time zones use Internet and social networking tools like email, a web-based word processor, blogs and wikis to write a 1500 word article, together? We tried -- partly as an experiment to test these new collaborative "electronic scholarship" technologies. The result is in the September issue of Young Children. This page is an attempt to document the process, so that perhaps, more can follow.

Article Title: On Our Minds: Meaningful Technology Integration in Early Learning Environments
from the Technology and Young Children Interest Forum Members
Young Children, September 2008, Vol. 63, No. 5

Author credits: X. Christine Wang (coordinator), Candace Jaruszewicz, Dina Rosen, Ilene Berson, Mark Bailey, Lynn Hartle, Sue Griebling, Warren Buckleitner, Bonnie Blagojevic, and Linda Robinson.

Warren Buckleitner (WB) asked the article coordinator -- X. Christine Wang (XCW) of the University of Buffalo some questions about the process of creating this article. As one of the people in the beginning of the process, Christine had a front row seat on the process, from start to finish. A note to the readers of this text and especially the coauthors of the article -- because this is a Wiki, please fill in the blanks and correct any inaccurate observations.

WB: How did the idea to collaborate on this project first start?
XCW: Last spring, members of the NAEYC Technology & Young Children Interest Forum received a message on an email distribution list from Bonnie Blagojevic. Bonnie was doing an article on digital photography in an upcoming issue of Young Children, and had a conversation with one of the editors about a new column the Young Children Journal wanted to start, to showcase different NAEYC interest forums. The editor wondered if the Technology and Young Children Interest forum would be interested in doing the first column. When Bonnie posted this invitation to the email distribution list, which includes members of the Interest Forum's Executive Committee and Website Advisors, a group of about 15 people became interested in the collaborating on the article and started exchanging emails through the email distribution list.

WB: How did you get involved as the coordinator?
XCW: We agreed early on that it was important for someone to take the lead for the article, so I volunteered. One reason was so the editor of Young Children could have someone to contact about the progress of the project. So then we had to start exploring the tools. Because I, and several others were already familiar with Google Docs, we decided to give it a try. I like the editing tools in Google docs, especially the ability to track changes, and several members were also familiar with how it worked, which really helped. Looking back, I think this was a good decision.

WB: in order to use Google Docs, (found here), you need to first sign up for a free gmail account. Google Docs works along with your standard browser with either Macintosh or Windows computers, and it is an example of "cloud computing." In other words, the document isn't saved on your hard drive. It exists on a Google server somewhere. Writing in a Google Doc looks and feels like writing in a Microsoft Word document, with the "track changes" feature on.


WB: So after Bonnie's posting to the group, what happened next?
XCW: After our group was formed, we had a conference call, followed by a lot of email. Based on the everyone's comments, I drafted the structure of the paper and uploaded it to Google Docs, where everyone could work on a section that they felt they had something to contribute. I then used email to urge people to send reminders and alert the group on the progress. The email served as the nudging tool to remind people about the article deadline and to fill in their section.

WB: So in terms of collaboration tools, I've counted four so far: (1) the email distribution list (2) a conference call (3) Google Docs and (4) email. Correct?
XCW: Yes, it was really a combination of all of these.

WB: We all know that any kind of academic writing can be a juggling act, especially concerning issues of authorship. How did you handle the give and take of different ideas, and assigning credit at the end?
XCW: I tried to establish a clear division of labor, based on my assessment of people's expertise and knowledge. During the conference call, we identified each person for each section. The understanding was that everyone shares ownership of this piece. But as you know, in academia, the order of authorship is pretty tricky stuff, because it might matter for a person's tenure and things like that. But Google docs can help, by keeping a clear history of who wrote what (and when). Based on this, I was able to assess the number of ideas contributed, and then I tried to determine how substantial those ideas were. Based on this, I came up with a draft order of authorship. When we got close to being finished, I emailed that order to the group for suggestions and for feedback. Most people agreed with me... I found people to be very cooperative about that. I was trying to be tentative, to make sure that everybody's contributions was noted. While we were constructing the article, different people tried to emphasize things in conflicting ways. I think it is important that the facilitator/coordinator step in to mediate with these issues in order to keep everyone on track.

WB: Do you have advice for others interested in doing this? What would you did differently?
XCW: It was a much better than I initially expected. The size of the group really scared me. I have been doing collaborative work for a long time, but with just three or four people. Fifteen or a dozen, that's just unthinkable! But in the end, it turned out to be quite productive. One thing I would have liked would be to start earlier. The substantial writing didn't really happen until about three or four weeks before the deadline. That's kind of tricky. But on the other hand, most people don't work without a deadline. In that sense, Google Docs helped us all work on the same draft at once. So things came together very quickly.

WB: Certainly the topic of technology and young children is not free of controversy, and it helps to have these new tools to move the quality of the discourse forward. Would you agree?
Yes! I would love to hear the feedback from the other group members to see how they saw the process.
BB: I learned from others in the group during the process of creating the article. The colleagues on the email distribution list have committed to taking a more active role in the NAEYC Technology & Young Children Interest Forum, and share an interest and expertise in using technology. It was exciting to have access to their ideas and learn more about what they are doing. I feel that made for a richer end result in the article for Young Children.

Also, the process of using the tools has been an educational experience- it is really important to have some "hands-on" time to get comfortable using the tools. Using Google Docs to work with others on a shared document to create the article helped us become more familiar with the group scholarship process. I am really glad Warren decided to place this "companion" article on the Wiki, and publicly invited us in to make changes and additions. This provides new opportunities to try out new aspects of the wiki (like the discussion tab), and are really valuable experiences that I can see bringing forward to other projects in the future.

WB: Also, you can't underestimate the low tech "push" from the opportunity to appear in a journal like Young Children. A lot of times, writing for a blog or a wiki, you don't think as carefully about the writing, the references and so on. I think we experienced an interesting interaction between electronic collaborative tools, which are slippery and always moving—and traditional printing, which is fixed and "on the record."
I think that's an excellent point about the going back and forth between the old and new mediums. The social networking tools are especially effective for the back and forth of ideas, but the traditional paper-based journal --- because of the tradition and established reputation of Young Children -- certainly helped the quality of the final product. I felt that our project embodied a positive synergy between new tools and the old medium.

WB and you can't discount old-fashioned motivation—that your name is going on this project, or the negative motivation that "if this thing isn't good then I might look silly."
And as you said, when people write a blog entry, it has a different requirement and perhaps the reader has a different expectation. So I definitely see this as a process where the reality of an established journal helped form the project.

WB: Do you have any advice for other groups who might want to collaborate on a journal article?
XCW: I would say:

a) Start with a group of collaborators that share a similar vision for the final product. Hopefully they already have some degree of chemistry. In our case, we've all presented on panels together, seen each other at NAEYC-many in the group have been working together as members of the NAEYC Technology & Young Children Interest Forum group for some time, or written papers already, so we have an existing understanding and respect for one another. We are also motivated by the topic, and feel that we will take responsibility for the end result.
b) Have a coordinator monitor the progress, watch the deadlines, and keep everyone on task.
c) Use tools that people are comfortable using.
d) Create an outline and a structure to fall back on.

WB: Thanks! This was fun! How did we do? warren@childrenssoftware.com or, sign up for a free wikispaces account, join the ECETECH wikispace and share your comments below!

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