Creative Writing: using technology for on-screen and online workshopping

Creative Writing, E-Learning

Students using Etherpad software to workshop their writing in class.

Students using Etherpad software to workshop their writing in class.

This project forms one of a number of discipline-based projects forming part of the ‘Discipline-focused Learning Technology Enhancement Academy 2010’. The underpinning model for the programme has been informed by successful outcomes from the Academy/JISC Benchmarking and Pathfinder programmes and the Academy’s acclaimed Change Academy to enable project teams to identify how they can maximise the benefits of the use of technology to enhance learning, teaching and assessment in their subject departments.

The English Subject Centre have a second project running as part of this programme in Transition at Blackpool & the Fylde College

Team members

Steve May – Bath Spa University

Critical friend – Kevin Germaine

Project vision, objectives and rationale

Workshopping is the standard model for the teaching of Creative Writing at all levels. Workshopping involves intensive use of paper, printing and photocopying multiple copies of student work (which is then annotated by peers and tutors). This process is limited in the interaction between participants: generally speaking only the student whose work is under scrutiny will see all comments. Others will be “blind” to all input but their own. BSU Department of Creative Studies wishes to explore new and more flexible ways of workshopping, involving on-line and on-screen sharing of documents, for example via google docs, Riffly, Voicethread or related sharing technologies (e.g. the recently open-sourced Etherpad.

The project would potentially impact on around 100 postgraduate and 500 undergraduate students at Bath Spa: it could also be disseminated through the NAWE HE Network in which BSU is an active participant.

This initiative is linked directly to the institution’s new Learning and Teaching Strategy 2009/12 (Section 6:To make greater use of information technology to enhance student learning,” and in particular “improving opportunities for staff and students to work together to research and develop e-learning tools and approaches.”); and is closely aligned to HEFCE’s Enhancing Learning and Teaching through the use of Technology implementation framework. New technological approaches to workshopping will:

1. enable existing processes to be carried out in a more cost-effective, time-effective and sustainable way.
2. enhance and improve existing processes
3. potentially transform the workshop paradigm by allowing greater flexibility in annotation and editing, and comparison among peers of their editing suggestions.

We would also look to investigate ways of incorporating assessment of workshop participation (something highly valued but hard to assess formally) within the scheme (in the context also of the University of Winchester led HEA funded project: TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) in which we are a partner.

Transformation will necessarily be gradual: it will involve staff development and management of student expectation. However, the heart of the project is enriching and expanding the workshop experience for all participants, and this enrichment should help drive change.

Participation in the project will enable us to benefit from the experience of peers, thereby streamlining our own learning and development process.

Current project status

The project has piloted use of the document sharing Etherpad facility first with a group of year 3 undergraduate script students and later with an MA group. Results have been extremely positive: the undergraduate students immediately took to the technology, and quickly developed their own protocols for its use (though interestingly they have not apparently used it outside of class time, even though several of them mooted this possibility). The postgrads were more suspicious, and not as wholly convinced of the superiority of the method over use of paper, but did report positively on the speed of editing and the extra level of feedback.

A short video has been produced which shows a live workshop with a third year group.

Benefits to students

Conventional paper-based workshopping in creative writing operates on a limited model of serial “spokes of the wheel” interaction (one after another each person has their say, thus giving an artificial hierarchy of opinion, and creating artificial pressures on each subsequent contributor to come up with something original). Through on-screen and on-line workshopping we hope to develop a more flexible and interactive paradigm, which allows all participants to share their thoughts and suggestions, and at the same time allows the tutor to provide exemplary editorial suggestions that can be implemented and seen immediately. The learning experience for all students will thus be enriched and expanded. They will have an immediate insight into the complex and ever shifting writer/reader relationship absent from, or obscured in, paper based workshops. They will also get credit in assessment terms for their active participation.


This work will be part of a funded School project, drawing on recent work on resource based learning in media and literary studies which has involved creation of pod cast assessment feedback as a shared learning resource.  Our project builds on pedagogy projects funded by the University in 2007/08.

The School will be making technical support available to assist the team in developing this project. The School is participating in the University of Winchester led HEA funded project: TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) and we would be incorporating this work into our work with them.

Watch a video of the project in action