I wrote to a friend who teaches English at a middle school. I told him about my idea. It was a good reality check, and his comments made me think (which is what I was hoping for). He said, among other things:

“I think the Wiki method of composition is excellent in theory. I mean the idea is exactly what teachers are trying for when they have small groups of kids sit in a circle and read their stories to the group. The group is supposed to give suggestions, help the writer do some meaningful revision, etc. The problem that I have always encountered at the junior high and high school levels is that in order for this process to work, all the interested parties have to care enough to spend time and effort on some other kid’s work…and most teenagers simply don’t. They give lots of superficial praise and very few meaningful criticisms or suggestions. It’s question of motivation…[snip]

Many people who are not teachers believe that you can just assign the students to do something and they will fall in line, but you can’t assign a kid to care.”

He then went on to say several other things, many of them positive about the idea. But he works in a place where the rubber meets the road, and he brings up an excellent point.

I have found hours of insight, entertainment, and reflection from frequenting a discussion board I came across several years ago. My first thought was that a discussion board would provide an excellent educational resource in an online class. But when I put one in my class, I found the only way students would post is if I made it mandatory. I had to threaten them with a lower grade to get any ‘participation’.

The difference between the two discussion boards is that in one people are there because they care, and in the other one there is no vested interest.

So, what is the point to all of this? Basically I think that collaborative writing would produce interesting fiction, a person who writes in such an environment would become a better writer, and a wiki would facilitate collaborative fiction in a very slick way. But you won’t have much success by using this method in a junior high school, a high school, and even most college courses. You WOULD have success by creating a place where folks who care about such things, could come and hang out.

After all, it seems to work out just fine in the arena of fan fiction.

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