Introduction to ODU Writes a Book Site

Introduction to ODU Writes a Book Site

“ODU Writes a Book” was an experiment inspired by flash mob experiments in writing embraced within the digital humanities as means to A) bring communities together to engage in synergistic collective knowledge sharing practices, B) demonstrate how new technologies challenge popular imaginings of what constitutes “authorship” and “writing” in a digital era, and C) integrate the process and product of writing into a holistic experience shared communally that might in turn spawn new investments in writing and reading as lived, shared practices.

“ODU Writes a Book” took place on DATES, during which members of the ODU community came together to collectively author and edit a book on the subjects of physical and virtual spaces. The book was authored using Google Docs. Over the course of 24 hours, there were 284 registrants and 650 entries totaling over 400 MB of space.

We admit that the title of this project, “ODU Writes a Book,” is somewhat misleading, on several levels.  If we were to break down and diagram the title as every middle school student learns to do in English class, we would soon realize that the entire sentence is false.

First, the subject, ODU, doesn’t exist as a singular creative entity.  Instead, what was utilized were many people, many viewpoints, many approaches, and many voices, singing a chorus of text at a maddening pace over a short burst of creativity.  This is indeed a far cry from the image of the solitary authorial genius working in silence in his or her room of one’s own, creating something from nothing.  Moreover, the 281 of participants, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni clearly represents both a multifaceted and irreducible vision of “ODU” as far more than just an umbrella category, but rather, a site where multiple, overlapping and sometimes competing authorial voices come together to collectively constitute an institutional snapshot or self-portrait. Which brings up…

Second, the verb, in simple present tense, “writes,” doesn’t accurately capture the spectrum of input.  For alongside text, we had submissions consisting of images, memes, video, and even audio—acts of inscription that is hardly the reminiscent of our fictitious author putting pen to paper or clacking away at a keyboard.

Third, the object, “book”—the product of our little experiment, doesn’t exist.  If there is a book, it is only in our imaginations, for the 24 hour period during which a wide range of actors worked alongside, parallel, and perhaps against each other, is what we consider to be the most interesting aspect of this project.  There is, of course, a tangible, physical object consisting of page numbers and text that you will eventually be able to thumb through, raise over your head, and place upon your bookshelf or coffee table, but that is just one of many forms of output.

Instead, we have conducted this experiment to challenge the very notions of “the book,” to ask ourselves what form could this collaborative exercise be best processed and consumed—and it may turn out that the book falls short.  We are then faced with a set of haunting questions that we hope you will ponder with us: Who “owns” this book?  What is the nature of writing?  Does the form have to remain fixed after 24 hours?  Can it live on?  Can it evolve?

What we are presenting for you here is just the raw materials created by the experiment. We have grander ambitions, including a printed edition of select materials and an interactive web platform that will allow readers to search and rearrange content in innovative ways. Stay tuned.

David Roh / Avi Santo / Dylan Wittkower


ODU Writes a Book – Composing Sparks!

Welcome to ODU Writes a Book! We value your thoughts and ideas regarding how knowledge relates to virtual and physical places and are so excited to have you contribute to this event.

But, what exactly does that mean – the relationship(s) between knowledge and places, be they virtual or physical or an intersection somewhere between? Well, we’re on a mission to find out and need your help! That said, we know that beginning a composition of any kind (written, recorded, performed, image-based, etc.) can be difficult. As such, we’ve developed the following “sparks” and other resources to help you begin. These sparks are designed to help you enter the discussion and envision ways of contributing to this project. However, we don’t want you to feel obligated to address any one of these sparks, as your contribution is ultimately just that, yours.

Sparks – Ideas for Getting Started

  • How have the physical places of the university played a role in your experience at ODU?

    • Different classrooms and when they made classes better or worse

    • Distance education formats and structures

    • Classroom buildings as social/educational space

    • Res life as a successful (or less successful) part of a living-learning community

    • Field work, labs, and other non-classroom places of education and training

  • How is digitization or virtualization changing your field of study or work?

  • How is the move of our lives into more and more online places changing how you know others, and how you know yourself?

  • What is the future of education, or the future of the university, in an increasingly wired world?

  • What are some places that have been important to you—important personally, professionally, or in your life as a student? What has been important about those places? How can that importance be expressed—or is it beyond the reach of words and explanation?


Best Practices

ODU Writes a Book: Best Practices for Collaborative Authorship

Before the event:

  • Visit the ODU Writes a Book site to sign up as an author and post your ideas! Review the ideas and interests of others and comment on them.

  • Communicate with potential collaborators and share contact information.

  • Consider spending time pre-planning and outlining the piece you and/or your group will be composing.

  • If working with a group, consider assigning roles based on the outline you construct.

If the event has already started:

  • Start by looking through the documents on the Google Drive to see what others are doing. Maybe you’ll find an exciting idea you want to contribute to, or, if you have a topic of your own in mind, maybe you’ll find someone else has already started working on a related topic.

  • If you want to start work on a new topic, create a folder for your chapter and start writing! Be sure to use a title that will help others who might be interested in your topic to find and contribute to your work.

  • Cite your sources, if you’re using any! Use whatever formatting style you want to use. And, focus more on complete information rather than correctness of formatting, as our editors will help address the latter.

  • Go multimodal! In other words, feel free to incorporate images, videos, and/or audio into your work.

  • Whether you’re starting your own chapter or jumping into one already underway, be sure to write your name at the top of the main document, unless you don’t want to be identified as an author.

  • Cite your images and videos, or, if you created them, credit yourself as author! Often, a hyperlink will suffice to cite online materials. Respect copyrighted material online (e.g., images, videos, music, etc.) by reproducing material in ways congruent with the author’s request for how her materials are used. Consider using artifacts with a creative commons license, such as images available through flickr.

  • Hyperlink when appropriate and when you can. For example, if you refer to a work available online, consider hyperlinking to that text to enrich the reading experience of those who interact with the book.

  • Take breaks as you write. Take breaks to stand up and walk around. Take breaks to look through what other people are writing. Take breaks to edit other parts of the chapter after you’re done with a section. It’s good to step back and step away from time to time.

  • When you and/or your group complete a draft, take time to revise and proofread the composition.

  • After the event, if referring to the work you have collaborated on composing, please cite the piece accordingly, recognizing all authors.


Google Docs – Collaborating & Organizing

Depending on how many collaborators there are for your chapter and how you define your collaborative approach, there are multiple ways of organizing your project flow. Here are a few suggestions:

Identification: Unless you don’t want to be a named author, you should write your name at the top of the main document for each chapter. It’s probably best to do this immediately, so you don’t forget and miss out on being recognized as one of the authors of that chapter.

Folders: Ideally, each chapter, individually or collaboratively written, will be contained within a clearly labeled folder containing all supporting docs.

  • Create a subfolder for your project within the “master” Google Docs folder associated with the project.
  • Label your folder with your chapter title (a working title is fine).
  • Share the folder with the other collaborators directly related to that particular chapter.

Documents: Multiple documents within the folder will help streamline and organize your workflow. Many times, if only a few people are collaborating on a project, one or two documents within the folder will provide an adequate workspace. However, multiple docs that are clearly labeled could be useful, such as:

  • a “planning and outlining” doc
  • a “manuscript body” doc
  • an “images” and “video” doc—or images and links to video may be embedded into the body.

Video: If you’re working with video, it’s probably easiest to host the video on YouTube and link it into the document, but you should also be able to directly place video or other files into the shared folder for your chapter.

Message to ODU Faculty

Dear faculty,

The ODU Writes a Book project begins next week, on Tuesday, 2/11, and I’m writing you now to remind you about it in time so that you’ve still got an opportunity to mention it to your students in class if you’re on either a TR or MWF schedule.

We’ll have a project launch event at 12:30 on Tuesday in the Learning Commons, and then writing will commence. Participants will be able to start their own chapters in new documents on the Google Drive, or simply jump into chapters already in progress. Contributions may be scholarly, informal, or creative writing—or video, photoessays, spoken word performance, or any other sort of engagement with the theme, “You are (w)here: How knowledge is related to virtual and physical place.” We’ll wrap up writing 24 hours later at 1:00 on Wednesday, 2/12, and then we’ll have a closing event, in which we’ll present some of the results and reflect on the experiment, at 12:30 on Thursday, 2/13.

We’re very excited about the event, and hope that you can help drum up further interest, excitement, and involvement by presenting it to your students, and possibly mentioning the theme’s relevance to your course or your field. We understand WVEC will be coming by to film the launch, that the event will be up on the front page of shortly, and that President Broderick will be speaking at the closing event on Thursday. This is a unique experiment and, if successful, may be of national or international interest.

Thanks for your interest and support. We hope to see great turnout from students—but we hope that faculty members will be well represented as well. Please consider whether you’ll be able to make some time during these 24 hours to drop in physically or virtually, see what’s going on, and contribute!


Dylan Wittkower