This We Believe: A Google Docs Collaborative Writing Experiment

A few months ago I caught wind of Google Docs and was struck with the flexibility offered beyond the clunky Wiki capabilities of my class SharePoint site. My gifted class (undertaking grade nine, ten & eleven English) had been working through draft phases of This I Believe essays, using the class’ Wiki to create blogs for daily writes and an online discussion board for peer editing, and I thought we might employ Google Docs to approach the original intention of Edward R. Murrow‘s CBS Radio essays of the same name: To point to the common meeting grounds of belief, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.

We began with this prompt, arranged in groups of four:

Purpose & Procedure

  • We will be using this Google.doc to prepare a document that will serve as a declaration of our shared values.

  • Beginning in class Wednesday, we will divide up the responsibilities in the preparation of this document. Following a discussion at the quad level of each individual’s belief statement, the following responsibilities will be allotted to each grade:

    • Grade Nines ~> development of small passages which represent the common ground of belief between members of each quad.

    • Grade Tens ~> drafting of a unified whole, which blends and edits together a class set of beliefs based upon the passages supplied by each quad.

    • Grade Elevens ~> publishing a cohesive statement of the class’ beliefs, dignified in tone and written in a style which is deserving of such an expression.

Each group began with its four members’ distinct This I Believe essay theses, with the grade nine members developing  statements which represented each quad’s unified beliefs. Initially the prospect of coming together on 28 unique belief statements was met with some frustration and indignence that such a thing might even be accomplished, but the simplicity of having to listen to one another, to acknowledge the firmly held values and perspectives of their peers was evident within minutes. Keep it simple, I told them. Surely there is something can be said that four people can abide as representative of their beliefs! With awkward first steps, the project began to take root:

We believe that if everybody is passionate enough about a something ie. Books, we can make a difference in society.

We believe that one needs a means of release, such as a hobby or activity, to be happy and enjoy the present.

We believe that the key to enjoying life is to use your common sense and listen to everyone because each person is equal. :) :) :) :)

We believe that when a person accepts and loves themselves for who they are, they have the potential to be happy.  People who are satisfied with their life have better abilities to help others and make a difference.

We believe that one must be strong in oneself to be a contributing member of the community.

We believe that everyone has their own perspective, but it is hard to accept that.

We believe that if we take time to find and follow our hearts and passions, while accepting the change that comes our way, we can do anything.

The task then shifted to the tens and scupting the above into a single paragraph representative of the individual values of their classmates. Responsibility for the writing process became less a conversation than a range of individual contributions according to the shaping of meaning, evolution of style, and a grasping for the profound:

We as a class believe that life is about achieving happiness and fulfilment, and living life to  the best of one’s abilities. We believe that in order to be successful, each individual must       accomplish their own personal goals and live according to their own standards. We believe    that everyone has a belief, and it is important that they live by their belief at all times.

We believe that one’s ideal in life is to be happy.  To live in a life where the only knowledge one needs to be successful is common sense.  Where optimism is a universal language.  A place where the more one accepts themselves, the happier they can potentially be.  It wouldn’t matter if one could not accept their own perspectives because they would be in a place where they are never alone.  No, they would always have their community to fall-back on, because one would do the same for each person there.  In a community so great that one’s passions becomes the community’s passions and, together, they start their pursuit.

Okay so I really like where that’s going and I like the idea of it, I’m just not quite sure what I want to do with it. I’ll highlight to you what I think may need changing, and comment beside it.
We believe that one’s ideal in life is to be happy.  To live in a life where the only knowledge one needs to be successful is common sense.  Where optimism is a universal language.  A place where the more one accepts themselves, the happier they can potentially be.  It wouldn’t matter if one could not accept their own perspectives because they would be in a place where they are never alone. (I think that maybe this would be more effective if we made the idea of community, and the idea of not accepting oneself because I feel like they were forcefully placed together. I think that we need to find two seperate thoughts for it, but I’m not quite sure how, beacuse then it seems like it’s going onto a tangent) No, they would always have their community to fall-back on, because one would do the same for each person there. In a community so great that one’s passions becomes the community’s passions and, together, they start their pursuit. (I feel almost as if it’s a bit awkwardly put together. Those are definitely the points we want to make, but as for flow and putting the idea together better, maybe try stepping in grade 11’s)

Strangely, it takes until this point in the process where the silence is broken (near the end of an hour-long class spent shuffling the duties of the This We Believe Google Doc, and each student’s This I Believe (during the period, there was also an ill-fated attempt to begin a Wikipedia page for our school’s gifted students’ program; apparently such a page – even attached to a public school’s site – was deemed “promotional.”). For homework, the English 11 students were to add revisions contributing to the piece’s overall polish and a “dignified” tone and “style that is deserving of such an expression. The process is now a personal one, and the fine tuning is left to the class’ literary leaders:

We believe that one’s ideal goal and purpose in life is to reach a point of happiness in which we think the life we’ve had thus far has been used to its fullest. We believe in making differences, and that moving and changing things for the better is part of a fulfilling life. We believe that our lives are our own, and that is immensely critical, but that it is also vital to equally share it with others.

We believe in faith; in living by and for your own principles and ideals.

We believe that in everyday life, passion and heart is a necessary drive. We believe in the power of expression, and the importance of accepting and shaping those expressions. Both our own and those of others.We believe that the two worst things you can do in life are to not love yourself at all, and to love only yourself.

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