STONEHILL COLLEGE PROFESSOR USES NEW COLLABORATIVE WRITING PLATFORM SKRAWL TO INCREASE CRIMINOLOGY STUDENTS’ ENGAGEMENT
Private, Roman Catholic, and liberal arts school, Stonehill College serves 2,400 students and 164 full-time faculty, offering over 80 academic programs in the humanities, sciences, business, education, and pre-professional advising programs. The College’s business program has been accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), amongst only 42 at undergraduate institutions worldwide. The average freshman retention rate at Stonehill is 88 percent, with the College’s graduation rate at 77 percent. Ranked by The Princeton Review as one of "The Best 381 Colleges: 2017 Edition", Stonehill’s educational approach blends nationally recognized experiential learning with challenging courses to foster critical analysis and creative thinking.
In Stonehill College’s Sociology & Criminology Department, the undergraduate Criminology program provides students with "knowledge in the theory and practice of the social sciences, research methodology, and law." In the Spring of 2016, Assistant Professor of Criminology Dr. Anamika Ghoshal sought to increase her students’ engagement levels through collaboration and introduce new technology for her seminar "Writing for Criminology: Crimes of the Powerful". Dr. Ghoshal needed a platform that would not only be interactive and collaborative for students, but that allowed her to track individual participation and assess her students’ understanding of key lessons. Most importantly, Dr. Ghoshal needed resources to be easy to use for students as well as herself, cost-effective, and flexible to work within the course syllabus.
After researching various tools, websites, and options, such as creating a class blog for discussion, Dr. Ghoshal concluded that competitive, collaborative writing website Skrawl would be the best fit for her class and her needs as a professor. Skrawl’s platform makes traditional writing more social by having users start a portion—or "bit"—of a story, idea, or discussion and then users can open their work for collaboration, either with a select group of friends or the Skrawl community as a whole. All participating writers then submit their entries for what they think should happen next, and then everyone votes on the anonymous submissions to select the best next bit. This process continues until the "skrawl" is completed, and members of the Skrawl community have the ability to read along as the project develops. Skrawl also provides users with the opportunity to conduct this collaborative writing process on a smaller scale through Skrawl’s Writing Room. The Writing Room allows a user to create skrawls and projects in a closed, private environment with only their invited collaborators. The Writing Room creator is also provided with admin access and key features, such as the ability to see user participation and provide feedback.
COLLABORATIVE COMPETITION INCREASES WRITING PARTICIPATION
Dr. Ghoshal created her class’s Writing Room, "CRM 400a: Crimes of the Powerful Spring 2016", and then invited all her students to register on Skrawl and join the Room. Over the course of the semester, Dr. Ghoshal and her students created six skrawls, where Dr. Ghoshal wrote Bit 1, posing a question or observation from the syllabus reading for students to respond and reflect on in the following bits. Students had five days to write and submit their entries before the three day voting period would begin, where students read over the submissions of their classmates and chose the entry they felt best answered Dr. Ghoshal’s points from Bit 1.
Throughout their semester the "Writing for Criminology" class of sixteen’s participation increased by 247 percent on Skrawl, from 17 recorded votes on "Skrawl 1: Definitions" to 59 recorded votes on “"Skrawl 6: Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide”, with a peak of 65 recorded votes for “Skrawl 4: International Criminal Justice". Students logged longer time on site as well as utilized their ability to read more entries and cast multiple votes, demonstrating students’ increased levels of engagement in the subject matter and the furthering of their comprehension of the curriculum through the thoughts and ideas of their peers.
Dr. Anamika Ghoshal gathered very positive results from her "Writing for Criminology" seminar’s use of Skrawl’s Writing Room. The inclusion of interactive technology and collaboration amongst classmates greatly increased student engagement and provided a new opportunity for students to review the curriculum being taught. Also, Skrawl’s unique voting process added a slight competitive edge that further incentivised students’ participation to write, not only the best piece they could produce for the analysis of their professor, but for the review of their peers as well. Dr. Ghoshal plans to continue using Skrawl’s Writing Room with future classes and will present the platform to colleagues to use with their own students in the upcoming fall semester.