Scholarly Productivity and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cultivating Community in a Remote Writing Group

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Dr. Carol Anne Constabile-Heming, Professor of German, University of North Texas.

Because of the isolation that resulted from the emergency shut down of colleges and universities as a response to the spread of COVID-19 in the spring semester, the sense of community that ordinarily germinates organically on college and university campuses all but vanished. This, coupled with disruption to the operations of scholarly organizations that normally host annual conferences and professional development opportunities, has acted as a barrier to scholarly productivity for many faculty members. This is especially true in the case of women and minoritized faculty who are shouldering the majority of caregiver duties, including caring for sick family members, supervising home schooling, shopping, cleaning, and cooking. In the midst of the often-impossible demands this places on one’s time, energy and focus, scholarly activity—most especially writing—can easily fall to the bottom of the incredibly long task list.

Faced with my own uncertainties and concerns about moving my research projects forward, I longed for a way to recreate the serenity of summer. Summer break, for me, typically involves travel to archives in Germany, where I spend a minimum of four weeks concentrated on writing. I knew I was going to miss the scholarly community that I have cultivated over the course of my career, so I started imagining a new way to think not just about scholarly productivity but also scholarly community. Is it possible, I wondered, to create a virtual community as a site of collective support? I looked first to my writing accountability group, a small network of German Studies scholars within the scholarly collective Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum (DDGC). Each week, members of the accountability group set writing goals and publicize them to other members of the group. At the end of the week, members reflect on whether or not they met their goals. It is a supportive community: if one does not achieve one’s goals, the other members are there with a sympathetic ear, offering support and advice. There is no judgement.

I used this accountability environment as a platform to create a digital remote writing group. As Douglas Lightfoot has written, accountability writing groups “provide a framework” for writing that increases “the likelihood that the [writing] schedule will be maintained.” Because the DDGC writing accountability group already consisted of a group of scholars at all levels interested in supporting each other and in the writing process, it seemed like the logical place to start. In this article—in hopes that my experience can be of use to others who may wish to replicate something similar—I offer a description of how I set up the writing group, what some of the outcomes and responses have been, and practical tips and advice for moving forward.

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