Cross-disciplinary collaboration, pt. 3
In this last post of the series, I will discuss the results of this collaboration of assignments with our first-year History professor. In particular, I will address the following:
- Issues arising from the ARC Notes side of the assignment
- My views on how it contributed to improved academic reading and writing
- Responses from students about its affordances and learnings
- Where tightening may occur with the History lecture notes assignment going forward
I’ll start, however, by noting that using the ARC Notes as an extension to the regular ARC cycle was a lot of work for students and instructors (far more reading and writing on both parts than a conventional comprehension quiz), but their accountability for having read and discussed the texts involved also significantly increased, far more than when we simply moved on to the next text. This need to produce a cohesive document with more writing samples which demonstrates shared understanding after ARC continues to be a struggle for many EAP instructors. So this was a happy side-effect.
Arising issues from the ARC notes
The amount of collaboration between students in a group continues to be the major grey area. While one purpose was for groups to work together on a co-constructed understanding of text concepts, it’s difficult to see this collaboration playing out equitably beyond watching them in class work on the document together. There’s never enough time in class to devote to full completion, so you assign the remainder for homework. Do students contribute equally then? Do they discuss their ideas synchronously or otherwise in the chat box on Gdocs? Who knows.
While Gdocs does allow for writing attributed to particular users, there are ongoing glitches resulting in continued appearances by muskrats, leopards, and other anonymous critters in the revision history. Even if anonymity weren’t the problem, it’s impossible to determine if each group member read the other contributions over before submitting the assignment.
Technical issues aside, aligning one part of the ARC Notes with the History Lecture Notes assignment is fine, but there are far more bits and pieces to include that have little to do explicitly with transferability to Alexandra’s assignment because the ARC Notes is one step in a larger research project for my course and needs to play dual roles. I wonder how this contributes or takes away from student understanding of the skill transferability between our courses. For example, in addition to Part A, which is where most connections between our courses occurs, students consider strengths and limitations to the text itself, brainstorm ways in which they may use it (or not) going forward, and raise questions for the author (pretending they might have a chance to clarify with them) in order to critical consider text concepts. These don’t appear on the History Lecture Notes assignment, since it’s more focused on lectures than texts. So while her assignment aims to strengthen lecture comprehension primarily, mine serves multiple aims.
Contributions to improved academic reading/writing
I have noticed that this extra step of meaning negotiation and longer writing has helped the average and above average students solidify their understanding of a text. For the lower-end students, their saving grace is that as a group task, their grades are brought up by the efforts of their group members presumably (see above). The tasks in Part A afford more focussed skill-building for things like APA referencing and logical structuring of information. For my course at least, as an early step in a larger research project assignment, it also has helped students better learn how to intensively read a text for most meaning, which they’ll need to do autonomously on their own texts in later steps, in my course, in Alexandra’s course, and in future years courses (I hope).
How students feel about it
Initially, they are vocal about how much work goes into completing these ARC notes documents. Of that, I’m perfectly clear… They do, however, blindly follow the process as they believe what we’re doing is important for their grades (sometimes hooray for grades!). Since this assignment precedes the History Lecture Notes one by design, it’s difficult for me to gauge how much transferability of skills they noticed. I’ll leave that for Alexandra to discuss in her upcoming post. Anecdotally, I’ve heard good things.
Tightening things going forward
As Alexandra and I have a fantastic working relationship (in addition to friendship), I wouldn’t change much about how well we worked together to design these assignments. They key to any cross-disciplinary collaboration though is to always remember that with strong connections comes possible implications. When you want to change something about your side of the collaboration to improve its scaffolding of skills or threads into your larger assignment, you now need to also be very clear with how these changes might affect the connected assignments that follow in the discipline course. Constant, clear, non-ego, open discussion is vital in continued success.
Where will we go from here? This year, we’ve kept these assignments with a bit of tightening. We’re working on putting together a research proposal and looking more deeply at this collaboration and its effects in a more systematic form. Maybe then we can get things together for publication.
In the end, I strongly recommend any attempt at EAP instructors and discipline-course professors improved communication toward a common goal. The more we allow for this, the more we collaborate, the more we create paths for our shared students’ successes, which is ultimately the goal in university, isn’t it?
Read the full 6-part blog post series: