Challenges to Online Collaboration

It's no secret that within post-secondary institutions, the humanities in particular place a higher value on the products of individual authorship than those resulting from collaborative work. This attitude not only pervades institutions but grounds practices and standards for assessing student work. We reward students for individual effort only, and not simply in the form of grades (are there scholarships acknowledging students who work in pairs or teams?). The reifying of individual effort (again, especially in the humanities) also determines how faculty are rewarded for their work. In Invention as a Social Act (1987), Karen Burke LeFevre discusses how this attitude can constrain knowledge creation and sharing:

The prevailing view of the atomistic inventor makes it difficult to develop new ways of understanding, acknowledging, and judging a wide range of collaborative efforts. It seems likely that teachers in the humanities, knowing consciously or unconsciously that collaboration is suspect, either avoid it or downplay its effects on their efforts as individuals. If we who make up academic communities are not yet confident of our ability to evaluate, promote, and fund collaborative efforts, we should at least begin to re-examine longstanding attitudes and practices [that privilege "proprietary ownership of ideas"] (p. 124).

Indeed, Lunsford et al. (1995) express concern that institutional and faculty resistance to collaborative learning seems far from futile:

... the way we teach writing and reading seem ... almost universally to assume the "author construct" and concomitant notions of private ownership of knowledge, texts, intellectual property. These notions, moreover, have for too long gone unexamined by those of us who are teaching reading and writing, and this failure may well be a large part of the resistance to collaborative and collective practices on the part of many traditional teachers as well as for the devastating trivialization of collaboration that we see taking place in the pages of our journals as well as in the media and workforce.


LeFevre, K. B. (1987). Invention as a social act. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Lunsford, A. A., Rickly, R., & Salvo, M.J. (1995). What matters who writes? What matters who responds? Issues of ownership in the writing classroom. Kairos: Rhetoric, technology, pedagogy. (1:1). Retrieved 7 January 2007 from: