image credit: ruth hartnup from flickr

At the Graduate Center, many students use digital technologies to share their writing, elicit feedback, and provide comments on the work of their peers. Most often these exchanges happen through course blogs or the exchange of text documents through email or shared group folders. While these tools and methods have provided welcome new venues for practicing writing and review as well as building intellectual community among Graduate Center students, both forms of sharing have critical limitations.  First, course blogs silo student writing to individual course websites, prohibiting students from building a unified, cohesive, and easily accessible portfolio of their graduate student writing.  Thus, blog posts (as well as comments on the posts of other students) are written, practically speaking, in an ephemeral environment, leaving little incentive for students to write with the same care that they would with projects that are part of an ongoing intellectual portfolio.  Second, course blogs do not emphasize the importance (and right) for students to control the publicness and privateness of every individual written post. Because intellectual work demands different levels of privacy and publicity at various stages, it is critical that students can decide the terms of sharing for every individual piece of written work.  Third, sharing text files through email or shared group folders only encourages a very direct, proactive form of sharing and does not capitalize on the casual, indirect forms of sharing (made possible by social media) that encourage vibrant group discussion and unexpected encounters.  Fourth, while peer commentary is technically possible within the shared text file, it is so unwieldy that it hardly ever happens. Fifth, neither the course blog nor the shared text file incentivize commentary, which misses the point that evaluating, not just producing, intellectual work is one of the critical activities of academic life.

Social Paper (SP) will attempt to remedy these issues by providing a centralized home for each student to compose, socialize and archive not only their writing, but also comments, both received and given. Instead of sharing or hosting writing on variety of different networks and file formats, graduate students will have the option of storing all writing (from weekly course responses to final term papers to the comments given to peers) in their own personal site as commentable and taggable content. SP will also empower students with advanced control over the terms of sharing and storing their work, enabling students to have complete power over who gets to see and comment upon each individual piece of writing. Course blogs will be replaced by course categories, allowing students to easily associate written pieces with a class while keeping it within the domain of their own portfolio which will enable other social options if they so wish. SP users will be able to easily browse through their evolving portfolio of class responses, reading and lecture notes, term papers, commentary and feedback from both students and professors, as well as browse through the contents of shared portfolios of their peers. Finally, SP will help legitimize the invaluable labor of student peer-review as meaningful and integral to students’ intellectual and social development.

For more information or to get involved, please visit on.socialpaper.gc.cuny.edu.