Why Social Paper (and not Google Docs, Learning Management Systems, course blogs, etc?)

Though there are numerous digital platforms which enable students to share or “publicize” their work, these collaborative practices are almost always tailored to meet the needs of a specific course rather than promote collaboration and personal reflection across courses, disciplines, semesters, and institutions.Digital spaces for classroom discussion — such as the course blog or a Learning Management System course site — often live and die with the passing of the academic term and rarely receive engagement from readers outside of the class. Thus, blog posts and comments on other students’ posts are written, practically speaking, in an ephemeral environment, leaving little incentive for students to engage as earnestly as they might if they could cultivate their digital identity and working relationships across temporal and institutional divisions. Furthermore, a majority of these tools often leave the student little agency in deciding when or what to share and with whom, nor do they give the student the means to easily take their writing offline later as they progress as writers and thinkers. Finally, these tools often impose predatory user terms which are typically given little attention by students or educators. (For a broader critique of the variety of digital tools used in the classroom, including Google Docs, Learning Management Systems, and course blogs, please see the article “Social Paper: Retooling Student Consciousness” in Scholarly Communication and Research.)

While these efforts point to the promise of a durable public for student writing, they are currently limited to achieving mere publicity. Social Paper attempts to remedy this situation by providing a user-centered digital workspace which allows students to compose, manage, and archive all of their writing across courses and terms from within a single space. Instead of scattering their writing across a variety of course sites, Social Paper allows them to easily set permissions for each individual piece of writing, allowing them to share their writing with a class, a professor, select peers, or the public at large. This common space benefits not only the student, but the cohesiveness of the student community as Social Paper will provide a sustainable commons where students may browse, comment upon, and build off the work of their peers (look here) both within and outside their courses, disciplines, institutions and familiar communities. Social Paper will use activity feeds and notifications to promote student writing and student comments among a network of peers; likewise students may choose to associate their papers with categories and topics to make them easily discoverable or showcase them on their public archive. Unlike siloed or ephemeral course sites, Social Paper transforms every writing assignment into the opportunity to build community both within and beyond the class.