Writing in a Group Setting

This is a guest post by Eric L. Muller, a contributor to the recent November-December issue of Academe. Muller is the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Law, as well as director of the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence, the pan-university faculty development center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

People exercise more in groups than they do alone.  They lose more weight in groups, and they pray more in groups.  Why should university faculty members not write more in groups?  That is the question that we set out to test at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  In the summer of 2013, UNC’s Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) piloted a Summer Writing Group program for faculty members from across the university in collaboration with the campus’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH).  The idea was not to put history professors together with other history professors so that they could engage deeply about the nuances of their ideas.  We knew that they could do that on their own.  The idea was instead to place faculty members into interdisciplinary groups – pharmacists with astronomers and lawyers with classicists – so that they could focus on the writing process itself and support one another’s productivity.

The program was a smashing success in its pilot year:  fifty-seven faculty members from a large and diverse array of academic units participated, with nearly three-quarters of them reporting that the program made them more productive than they would have been without it.  These successes were replicated in the program’s second iteration in the summer of 2014; the number of faculty participants grew to 67 and the percentage of them reporting greater productivity was 64.

Organizing an interdisciplinary program of this kind requires some delicate decisions and some careful matchmaking.  In this article (hyperlink) in ACADEME, I review how the CFE and the IAH set up UNC’s Summer Writing Group program and offer some suggestions for those who might wish to try them out on other campuses.

Note: A fuller discussion of this topic may be found in the November-December issue of Academe in “Developing the Faculty as a Writing Community”, an essay by Eric L. Muller.

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