National Writing Project

Inside the E-Anthology Team

By: Larry Barton
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 9, No. 1
Date: 2004

Summary: Sharing behind the scene observations of E-Team members at work, Barton describes how the E-Anthology allows summer institute participants to share writing with colleagues across the country.

 

Quick! What has 22 legs, crawls a web, and responds to hundreds of teachers?

Answer? The 11-member National Writing Project E-Anthology E-Team. The group for 2003 was made up of team leaders Shirley Brown, Peter Booth, and Michelle Rogge Gannon, and members Shari Williams, Tim Mathew, Chuck Hatt, Cathie English, Frankie Mengeling, William Banks, Shelbie Witte, and me. With technical support from NWP's Christina Cantrill and Aaron Curtiss, the team provided response to hundreds of teacher-writers from all over America who contributed to the NWP E-Anthology. Supporting two of NWP's basic assumptions that teachers who teach writing should be writers themselves and that teachers learn best from other teachers, the E-Team's panel of teachers responds to and encourages the anthology's teacher-writers.

Invitations to join the E-Team went out in early 2003 through the NWP Technology Liaison listserv. Interested people submitted brief application letters summarizing their careers and capabilities with respect to the position. The E-Team leaders looked for volunteers with writing-instruction or editorial backgrounds who were committed to the NWP philosophy and who were strongly anchored in local sites. Since the E-Anthology is an NWP technology initiative, a fairly high comfort level with technology was also highly desirable. For these reasons, recruitment centered on NWP's many technology liaisons.

A short time after soliciting volunteers, Shirley and Michelle informed people—including me—of our acceptance to the team and added us to an email list to facilitate communication between team members. We soon began testing the newest changes to the E-Anthology website to familiarize ourselves with the site features and track down any bugs in the system before the anthology season began. For example, we determined that the login procedure was not functioning properly across all browsers, meaning that many potential "clients" would be unable to reach the anthology. In addition, our "backstage" communications needed to be moved from the listserv to a discussion board at the E-Anthology site to allow more efficiency: The E-Team members needed direct linkage to one another while we were serving our E-Anthology "public."

The E-Anthology offers two main areas for contribution: A Day in the Life and Open Mic. Summer institute participants submit information about their day-to-day institute experiences to A Day in the Life. Personal writings of any other kind go to Open Mic. The first few years of the E-Anthology show that contributions to Open Mic outnumber those for A Day in the Life by about ten to one. In addition, the Open Mic contributions are higher maintenance. Contributors to this section are looking for more detailed constructive feedback for their work. Consequently, we divided the E-Team responsibilities to include two-week rotational assignments to A Day in the Life for pairs of teammates as something of a respite from the more intense Open Mic response.

Since our summer goals included that each contributor would receive a minimum of two E-Team responses per contribution, it was necessary for each team member to log between 10 and 20 responses each day. Of course, each team member had to have release time from anthology work throughout the summer to accommodate travel plans, staff development training, and work duties. So the schedule was an ongoing issue, with changes often made on the fly—especially during the month or so when summer institutes peaked. The E-Anthology season concluded August 24, 2003, with the website remaining accessible through the end of that month.

While the E-Anthology was not universally experienced across the country at all writing project sites, submissions were up to 1,670 in Open Mic and 277 in A Day in the Life, a significant increase over 1,066 submissions to Open Mic and 215 to A Day in the Life in 2002. Whereas 2002 saw 663 guest book sign-ins, 2003 sign-ins rose to only 715, indicating that more people were posting more often and/or working through multiple drafts than in 2002. The increase indicates a wider awareness of the E-Anthology throughout the country and, we hope, a greater appreciation for the benefits to be derived from it.

The basic advantages of the E-Anthology appear to be twofold. First, for those contributors who have already processed their work through a local writing group yet are looking for an intermediate step before attempting publication, the E-Anthology provides a potential audience of several hundred readers and reviewers. Excellent work is submitted to the E-Anthology—work that is imminently publishable. For example, Paul Oh from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project submitted a draft of personal reminiscences that he polished up for later use on a National Public Radio segment. Consequently, one suggestion to emerge from this year's E-Team is that a "Best of the E-Anthology" publication be created to enable this writing to see the light of day.

The second major advantage is that, for those contributors who are intimidated by face-to-face writing groups (perhaps because they do not feel comfortable critiquing their work environment or perhaps because of shyness), the E-Anthology provides a level of anonymity that allows them to distance themselves from their writing personas. Drafts of experimental or revolutionary writing can be worked through with help from others in the semiprivate environment of the E-Anthology.

During the E-Team presentation at this year's NWP Annual Meeting, the team provided an overview of the E-Anthology site and highlights from this summer's participation. The presentation included an opportunity for panelists and audience members to read through an article submitted by an E-Anthology contributor and to provide the kinds of constructive feedback E-Team members were asked to provide during the summer. At several places, it became apparent that audience members were criticizing the draft as though it were a finished or nearly finished product, disregarding the author's comments that it was a first draft. The discussion around this tendency provided a highlight of the presentation but also alerted the E-Team to the need to make the author's Comments section—where writers have a chance to provide background information and make specific requests for feedback—a more visible feature, both to the contributors, many of whom provided none, and to the responders who occasionally missed them.

Given the increase in use expected for 2004, the E-Team may have to grow more legs for next year and improve the services it offers. It's not too soon for local sites to begin planning a fuller implementation of the E-Anthology for their 2004 summer institutes. For further information about the E-Anthology and how it might help your summer institute participants, contact Shirley Brown, Peter Booth, or Michelle Rogge Gannon.

See the related articles, The E-Anthology, a Summer Institute Perspective, and English Teacher as Adult Mentor: A Delicate Balance, by Maggie Herrick.

About the Author Larry Barton teaches 11th grade U.S. Literature at Crookston High School in Northwestern Minnesota. He is the technology liaison for Red River Valley Writing Project, North Dakota.

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