Academic Exchange Quarterly     Summer  2010    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  14, Issue  2

To cite, use print source rather than  this on-line version which  may not  reflect print copy

format   requirements  or   text lay-out and pagination.

This article should not be reprinted for inclusion in any publication for sale without author's explicit permission. Anyone may view, reproduce or store copy of this article for personal, non-commercial use as allowed by the "Fair Use" limitations (sections 107 and 108) of the U.S. Copyright law. For any other use and for reprints, contact article's author(s) who may impose usage fee.. See also



Building Community Through Co-Authorship


Tara B. Perry, Western Washington University

Anna Eblen, Western Washington University

Brian Launius, Western Washington University

Hayley Peterson, Western Washington University


Perry, Ph.D., is Department of Communication Assistant Professor, Eblen, Ph.D., is Department

of Communication Professor, Launius, Department of Communication undergraduate, and Peterson, Department of Communication undergraduate.



At the university level, research collaboration between faculty and students has been promoted as a way to improve professional development. This qualitative study examined the relationship outcomes of successful college teachers’ and students’ collaborative co-authorship. The researchers gathered perceptions of co-authorship through focus groups and face-to-face interviews. Participants described four significant outcomes of co-authorship including: professional outcomes, fluid collaboration, communication building trust and community, and voice development. Results indicate that collaborative co-authorship is important for professional development, relational and personal growth of both teachers and students.



Collaborative co-authorship involves two or more people working in partnership on writing projects for publication or curriculum development (Nguyen & Nguyen, 2006). In education, we see a trend toward multiple authors, specifically more teacher and student co-authorship (Arthur, Anchan, Este, Khanlou, Kwok, & Mawani, 2004). Researchers emphasize the professional advantages of co-authorship such as publications and grant support. However, more happens in a successful co-authorship than just professional gain.  For example, teachers switch roles from expert to learner so that students develop expertise (Panitz, 1997); faculty members have higher quality work by having multiple perspectives from colleagues (Manton & English, 2006); students excel academically and professionally, both parties gain publication and recognition, and collaborative research informs academics and professions (Oddi and Oddi 2000). The literature implies that these significant advantages rest upon mutually satisfying interpersonal dialogue.  Our thesis is that collaborative co-authorship can create relationships and personal benefits beyond the professional advantages more widely recognized by scholars.


The purpose of this study is to explore the outcomes (e.g. personal, relational) of collaborative co-authorship between teachers and students. We intend to examine the benefits of collaborative co-authorship and more specifically find out why teachers and students think collaborative co-authorship is worthwhile; and we want to encourage others to try it. Concurrently, we explain how to implement co-authorship because our article demonstrates the process and is itself a product of such collaboration. First, we investigate the background of democratic communities, action research, and teacher-student voice as elements of collaboration. Next, we describe how we gathered data about the co-authoring experience. Although qualitative research has limitations to generalizability, the rich data has implications for advantages related to co-authorship. This method can guide other researchers who seek a procedure for collaborating and understanding the outcomes of collaborative co-authorship. Finally, we relate four perceptual themes in the words of students and teachers who collaborated. They emphasized relationship building as well as professional development. We believe that their words provide guidelines for collaborative dialogue and incentives toward co-authorship. 


Democratic Communities and Action Research

Scholars conceptualize collaborative relationships as democratic communities that are inclusive of many voices. Researchers similarly describe democratic classroom communities as teachers who care about their students, open to equality, facilitate independent thinking, and develop a safe classroom climate for open discourse of self-expression (Gould, 2001; Kesici, 2008, & Pryor, 2004). Engaging participants as good listeners and active learners encourages diverse voices for teachers and students. The current study involves “action research” about collaborative co-authorship.


Action research occurs when teachers critically analyze their practices through research and theory (Deemer, 2009). It is a reflective process whereby teachers as well as students take action to improve their educational practices (Foreman-Peck & Murray, 2008), in this case, co-authorship. Through action research, teachers have shared ideas, changed practices, and located their voices by reflecting on their experiences (Lobo & Vizcaino, 2006). The additional advantage of action research is that students are more involved when they reflect on how practices directly relate to them. The practice of concern in this study, collaborative co-authorship, warrants exploration through action research. Since action research emphasizes personal voice, the following section will examine interpersonal issues of voice and the development of relationships.


Teacher-Student Voice

Collins’ (1990) and Navarro’s (1992) earlier perspectives on voice, provides a foundation regarding how one’s voice builds individual self-concept. According to Collins (1990), voice refers to a person’s freedom to express thoughts openly with others who are willing to listen. Collins’ definition of voice positions the concept within the interpersonal communication realm, highlighting issues of verbal expression and listening. Navarro (1992) provides a comprehensive review of teacher voice and investigates the term from different perspectives: voice as personal/private, voice as representative action, and voice as collectively critical. Each explanation of voice focuses on the value of individuals having a say or the will to make a change through action. Although the voices of teachers have been crucial in action research, student voices and the issue of voice in teacher-student relationship have also intrigued researchers (Flutter, 2007; Veugelers & De Kat, 2002). Flutter (2007) defines pupil voice as students who are permitted to actively share their views in decision-making. When teachers integrate student voice, students are inspired to learn as the sense of community develops (Pratt, 2008). Similarly, Mitsoni (2006) notes that students’ interest comes alive when they can ask questions about puzzling ideas.


Some scholars have investigated listening aspects of voice and the teacher-student relationship. When teachers listen to the diverse learning experiences of students, both parties’ attitudes and behaviors may be positively impacted. Tedder, Jones, and Mauger (2008) suggest that researchers need to listen to students’ ideas and ask them how they should be taught. By listening and responding to students experiences, teachers are able to improve their own practices (Flutter, 2007). Ackley, Colter, Marsh, and Sisco (2003) have indicated that teachers can have a positive influence on student achievement when they listen and offer students a voice in decision-making.

It would be naïve to underestimate the difficulties of developing collaborative relationships and voice. The traditional university power differentials may make it more difficult for teachers and students to work collaboratively. Teachers must give up some of their authority in order to facilitate student voice. The practical costs of giving time to collaboration may seem too great. The ideals of a democratic community demand not only shifts in power, but also require both parties to exert the time and effort to develop their relationships.


This study examines participants’ perceptions of relationships while collaboratively co-authoring. The researchers posed the following research questions: RQ1. What are teachers’ perceptions of co-authoring a writing project with college students? RQ 2. What are students’ perceptions’ of co-authoring a writing project with teachers? RQ3. What do these perceptions reveal about personal and relational outcomes in co-authored projects?



The participants were 10 teachers and eight college students at a regional Northwest university in 2009. One male and nine female teachers represented six different academic departments, including humanities, social and physical sciences, where they had taught from one to twenty-four years. Two males and six females, including one graduate student and seven undergraduates, represented seven academic majors.


Purposive sampling permitted the researchers to select participants with particular characteristics required for the study, in this case, teachers and students who had co-authored a project (Baxter & Babbie, 2004). Most were university grant-supported teacher-student writing teams, while others were identified by participating colleagues and then contacted by email. The collaborative writing projects ranged from conference presentations to publications or curricular materials.

Researchers implemented a qualitative research approach: focus group and face-to-face interviews (Gill, Stewart, Treasure, & Chadwick, 2008; Saulnier, 2002). These action research strategies guided participant reflections and allowed researchers to examine perceptions about co-authoring. Each participant completed a demographic and consent form. The semi-structured, audio-recorded focus groups and interviews (teachers and students separately) ranged from one to two hours.


The qualitative analysis utilized open coding technique “During open coding, data are broken down into discrete parts, closely examined, and compared for similarities” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 102). The process involves “constant comparative analysis” by labeling statements, categorizing larger conceptual groupings, and finally interpreting central themes. Researchers transcribed interviews verbatim, identified discrete participant statements (sentence to paragraph length), and printed them onto index cards. After reading each statement, the researchers labeled the data conceptually and sorted cards according to initial labels. Through constant comparative analysis, they sorted cards into larger yet similar categories. The categories were collapsed and interpreted into overarching themes. Researchers, working as a team and independently, analyzed data three times to ensure conceptual grouping agreement. The open coding method allowed the team to constantly compare interview data with recently coded categories (Yin, 2003). The resulting themes represented interpretation of participants’ experiences with co-authoring.



Results indicate when collaborative co-authorship is done effectively, both teachers and students may gain more than an end product; instead they create successful relationships. The relational factors that contributed to the teacher-student collaborative co-authorship were inter-reliance, shared mutual respect, trust, listening, accountability, and the ability to express ones voice.

Teachers’ and students’ experiences in co-authoring can be characterized into four themes: 1) professional outcomes, 2) fluid collaboration, 3) communication building trust and community, and 4) voice and personal development.  The following narrative offers a brief explanation and examples typical of each theme.


Theme 1: Professional outcomes. The participants reaffirmed past researchers’ findings about professional benefits of working together. Reaching past the well-known benefit of publishing journal articles, teachers discussed their opportunities to engage in a new perspective and teach the research process:

That whole fresh outlook and way of looking at things. Energy, my goodness, I need that sometimes the energy, but also the level of excitement they [students] can bring.

I get to teach my students about writing an article and the process like locating a journal, writing to fit that journals’ language. Also, we have two great publishing opportunities.


Students included gaining knowledge, building resumes, and developing scholarly achievement.

It’s such a great opportunity for professional development I think co-authorship really responds to what scholarship is, …it’s not only researching something together, but disseminating the results. . .there’s the building a project and then sharing it with others with either writing or with a conference presentation.

We get to go to a conference and hold a workshop. . .about our writing process and [that] encourages other professors and students to work together. . . Just having the opportunity of getting published, working with the professor, gaining more knowledge on the topic that we’re writing about, and just writing a research paper. . .keeps me going back because I do want to learn more.


Theme 2: Fluid collaboration. Teachers and students described inter-reliance from the beginning through the end of the project. Each person shared writing responsibilities and leading the project. Samples of teachers’ comments included:

. . .collaborative co-authorship is when two or more people come together and work on [a] project as a team and in this case, collaborative, …just the faculty and the students working together … sharing ideas, brainstorming.

I think co-authorship is more a continuum of reciprocity where the participants share their expertise in creating a common product. Working together from the beginning of the project, designing the research question together.


Similarly, students noted that collaborative co-authorship is a joint effort in which mutual relationships develop and each person contributes. Students concluded:

. . .personally you get to build some really great interpersonal relationships. They [teachers] want to know what I know too. . .a mutual learning, which is really great because it gives me confidence. . .My professor, she’s my teacher, my boss, my mentor,  my friend. I feel like I don’t want to let her down. I feel responsible to her and so we have this great professional relationship and a really great close personal relationship too, but it’s just so many levels.

Equal in a sense that I mean, you’re valued and your work is valued and you’re seen as equals in their eyes. So you’re not seen just a student…but as a colleague.


Theme 3: Communication building trust and community. When working together, both students and teachers emphasized trust, accountability, listening, support, and fun as crucial communication factors that helped to deepen their relationship. Teachers noted:

I kind of give them that trust. Trust is one way of making the partnership work. I’m also held accountable for getting everything done on time. In a team it is very important to be able to help the other person, support the other person and I have to say, this team, we’re close and we’re cohesive and we’re there to listen to each other.

The main motivator for me, I think it helps me have more confidence in my thinking when I can work with a student and have that sense of trust. The results are better.


Similarly, students also discussed trust and accountability as motivating factors in completing their tasks and maintaining the partnership.

The professor trusts me to do good work because they asked me to be a part of that group and. . .project. So having that trust motivates me to do my best and to complete my work on time.

Working together and saying hey I’m going to help you, I’m going to work on this with you. That means you’re going to do your part, I’m going to do my part.


Teachers noted that their renewed commitment to listening was an important communicative skill to gain insight about themselves and their students. They commented:

It really helped my listening skills and I realize that even over a short period of time could we have built a sense of trust. So when this student had some constructive things to say about the way something was written, I’d listen to her and say, oh you’re right, that sounds better.

My student co-authors had really valuable views and insights that I could not have gotten because I’m in a different place than they are.


Participants described how they were able to build close relationships by engaging in extra-curricular activities such as sharing meals and attending campus events together. Participants explained the need for balance between work and social activities. A teacher explained the importance of non-work activities:

It’s a relationship I think that needs to be built over time. For example yesterday we went to lunch because we haven’t eaten together for a while so I think it’s really important to hang out together spend time together.


A student also emphasized the importance of creating an open and comfortable atmosphere when working with a team of co-authors:

Fun with each other was a nice balance to all of those very long hard hours that we’ve been working together on research, data analysis, and coding. We sometimes would take you know a couple minutes in the beginning of our meeting just to be able to unwind and talk about our day. During our meetings we crack jokes. . .lighten the mood so that everyone is really comfortable working together. We have food at our meetings, we do a little potluck thing … to be able to build up energy. But we have fun together and that’s what you need to have to be able to balance the work load that you are doing.


Theme 4: Voice development. Both students and teachers explained that the collaborative co-authorship helped them share their voices through writing. They emphasized the significance of action research in gaining personal insights and developing empathic understanding.

Teachers stated:

We examined our relationship. Student as teacher, teacher as student, and for me it was valuing their narratives with sharing the space together so that my voice wasn’t necessarily the lead voice or the most important. But it goes back to me to honoring the voices of all the participants.

We came to understand how participatory action research is something that could be used for teaching, learning kinds of organization for bringing in the student voice. . .We’re working in partnership and expressing how we think other people might want to use this model so see if it would work for them.


Students reflected on their writing experience and how they had grown in understanding and responsibility. The students concluded:

. . .benefits of writing with my professor. Obviously it’s great to have a personal connection with your professor because I think people view professors as. . .you can’t get into contact with them, they’re not real people, they don’t have real lives. . .they don’t have personalities.

Students voices to me is just sharing what the students have to say about their learning and what they have to say about what’s being taught in classes. And so student voice is empowering students to share on a non-hierarchal level … where they feel safe that they can talk to a professor.


In summary, this qualitative study illustrates four important relationship themes surrounding teacher-student collaborative co-authorship.



In this study, researchers investigated teacher and student perceptions of co-authoring a writing project and perceptions of their relationship. The authors used qualitative methods, with action research focus groups and interviews. Open-coding analysis uncovered four themes with links to interpersonal communication.  Theme one specifically, supported previous scholarship which concluded that co-authorship provides professional benefits for teachers and students, this study also pushed beyond professional gains to demonstrate personal and relationship benefits. Prior researchers discussed professional benefits of co-authorship such as publishing, conference presentations, and student academic growth (Arthur et al., 2004; Oddi & Oddi, 2000). In theme one, teachers and students in this study reported additional professional outcomes, such as improved writing skills, fresh outlooks, mentorship, and the opportunity to get to know each other as scholars. Researchers discovered three additional themes that emphasized the importance of interpersonal communication in productive co-authorship. For example, as theme two (fluid collaboration) demonstrates, students and teachers found that mutual support was crucial to their success. Their reliance on each other emphasized the need for communicating mutual respect and an open climate to share unique ideas.


In theme three, the participants established communication about trust and participation that enhanced their sense of community. Teachers mentioned a new commitment to listening. Students and teachers discussed non-work activities that enhanced a sense of equality. Students and teachers advocated balance between work and fun in order to succeed. Interaction that improved trust and accountability helped this egalitarian balance.

In theme four, teachers and students gained personal knowledge and voice by reflecting on their learning. Teachers’ thoughts about writing and curriculum were transformed by their student insights (Pratt, 2008). Participants felt that they gained their voice by presenting their results to each other as well as others.


Limitations of the study included concerns about dependability of analytic interpretation because researchers developed categories and themes through filtered personal lenses. Researchers cannot completely overcome preconceptions during qualitative data analysis, although awareness of bias mitigates the effects. To increase dependability, researchers followed a tracking method, coded transcripts multiple times, and debriefed to check for interpretive consensus.

The fact that narratives are specific to these participants, a distinctive group of co-authors, also challenged researchers’ interpretation of meaning. Yet, the themes drew directly on participants’ words. The teacher-student reflection processes allowed them to discover and explain their experience. With study participants who represented different academic disciplines, credentials, and experience, researchers found a rich range of meanings along with thematic commonalities. The diversity of the teacher-student research team added to our confidence in synthesis and interpretation. 


Future researchers may focus on the academic guidelines and ethics needed to facilitate successful teacher and student co-authorship. Studies may also focus on potential relational and communication challenges during co-authorship to prepare future participants undergoing writing projects. A continued dialogue about teacher-student co-authorship can evolve so that educators, researchers, and administrators may further examine the dynamics of interpersonal communication needed for successful collaboration. Given that teacher and student co-authors spend a significant time establishing their relationship, further research may examine the process of teacher-student co-authorship, from beginning to end.


Teachers from all fields can benefit from this research study by resolving to listen in order to create a climate where interpersonal communication is valued. Such focus can foster a respectful partnership between teachers and students. This study demonstrates that teachers’ research and practices are positively impacted by integrating their students’ perspective. Contrary to the literature, we learned that co-authors spend a great deal of time getting to know each other by socializing before and after the meetings. This type of open relationship allows for more informal and relaxed conversations. The co-authors often shared meals, stories, and found ways to integrate humor into their relationship. Effective communication, trust, and community building were key factors in successfully undertaking these writing projects. Through co-authorship, both students’ and teachers’ had increased feelings of safety in expressing their voices.  They were open to sharing diverse experiences, challenging each others’ thoughts, and listening to one another’s viewpoint to develop collaborative writing partnerships. With the move toward collaborative work in academia, future teacher and student co-authors may benefit from the personal outcomes of co-authorship as well as how to foster effective interpersonal relationships. As one teacher concluded:

I teach what I believe, I learn and value what students believe, and in turn the many voices create a democratic education.



Ackley, B. C., Colter, D. J., Marsh, B., & Sisco, R. (2003, April). Student achievement in

democratic classrooms. Paper presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved, November 2008, from ERIC database.

Arthur, N., Anchan, J. P., Este, D., Khanlou, N., Kwok, S., & Mawani, F. (2004). Managing

faculty-student collaborations in research and authorship. Canadian Journal Counseling,

38(3), 177-192.

Baxter, L. A., & Babbie, E. (2004). The basics of communication research. California: Thomson


Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought. Boston: Hyman.

Deemer, S. (2009). Using action research methodology to unite theory and practice. Teaching

Educational Psychology, 3(3), 1-3. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from ERIC database.

Flutter, J. (2007). Teacher development and pupil voice. The Curriculum Journal, 18(3), 343-

354. doi: 10.1080/09585170701589983

Foreman-Peck, L., & Murray, J. (2008). Action research and policy. Journal of Philosophy of

                Education, 42(S1), 145-163.

Gill, P., Stewart, K., Treasure, E., & Chadwick, B. (2008). Methods of data collection in

qualitative research: Interviews and focus groups. British Dental Journal, 204(6), 291-295.

Gould, C. A. (2000). Building classroom communities at the university level. Childhood

Education, 77(2), 104-106.

Kesici, S. (2008). Teachers’ opinion about building a democratic classroom. Journal of

Instructional Psychology, 35(2), 192-203.

Lobo, J., & Vizcaino, A. (2006). Finding a voice through research. Arts and Humanities in

Higher Education, 5(3), 305-316. doi:10.1177/147022206067627

Manton, E., & English, D. (2006). Reasons for co-authorship in business journals and the extent

                Guest or gift authorships. Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 48(2), 86-95.

Mitsoni, F. (2006). ‘I get bored when we don’t have the opportunity to say our opinion’:

Learning about teaching from students. Educational Review, 58(2), 159-170.

Navarro, J. J. (1992).  Will teachers say what we want to hear? Dilemmas of teacher voice.

Retrieved December, 10, 2008, from Michigan State University, National Center for

Research on Teacher Learning Web site

(Michigan State University, National Center for Research on Teacher Learning Rep. No. 92-5).

Nguyen, T., & Nguyen, T. D. (2006). Authorship ethics: Issues and suggested guidelines for the

helping professions. Counseling and Values, 50, 208-216.

Oddi, L. F., & Oddi, S. A. (2000). Student-faculty joint authorship: Ethical and legal concerns.

Journal of Professional Nursing, 16(4), 219-227.

Panitz, T. (1997). Collaborative versus cooperative learning: A comparison of the two concepts

which will help us understand the underlying nature of interactive learning. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from

Pratt, D. (2008). Lina’s letters: A 9-year-old’s perspective on what matters most in the

classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(7), 515-518.

Pryor, C. (2004). Creating a democratic classroom: Three themes for citizen teacher reflection.

Kappa Delta Pi Record, 40(2), 78-82.

Saulnier, C. (2002). Groups as data collection method and data analysis technique:  Multiple

perspectives on urban social work education. Small Group Research, 31(5), 1-16.  Retrieved March 7, 2002, from Proquest database.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics to qualitative research:  Grounded theory

procedures and techniques (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Tedder, M., Jones, P., & Mauger, S. (2008). Listening to learners. Adults Learning, 19(10),


Veugelers, W., & De Kat, E. (2002). Student voice in school leadership: Promoting dialogue

about students’ views on teaching. Journal of School Leadership, 12, 97-106.

Yin, R.  (2003).  Case study research:  Design and methods.  Applied Social Research Method

Series:  Vol. 5 (3rd ed.).  London: Sage Publication.