Could you write, edit and publish a book in three days? That was the challenge I set ten first-year School of English students at the University of Nottingham who applied to my open invitation. The challenge used the methodology of ‘book sprinting’, where a book is produced collaboratively over a very short period of time, normally between three or five days. In part the challenge was a practical examination of academic publishing, as part of Academic Book Week. But it was also a fantastic way for English students to immerse themselves in the real-life practicalities of book publishing.The event took place between the 9th and 11th November 2015. I acted as the facilitator but essentially everything was done by the students. It was decided early on that the book would be a student’s guide to starting university, a sort of rough guide to student life that would complement the existing, more official, documentation supplied by the University and UCAS. Interestingly, it was decided to include factual as well as creative responses, including poems and short stories as well as photographs taken by the students.
As you can imagine the three days involved lots of writing. Everything was done using Google Documents, so that all copy could be instantly shared and collaboratively edited from any networked computer. This saved an enormous amount of time and meant that the students could continue working well into the night, if they wanted to (which some did). By the end of day two we had over 25,000 words, as well as a variety of photographs, poems, and stories. Day three was where the students brought all this together into the final format of the document, placing case studies, student profiles and photographs alongside each section. A front cover was completed, with a name – ‘An Insider’s Guide to Starting University’ – aimed at students going through the very experiences that they had gone through themselves just months before. Harriet Williams was one of the students involved. Her interest in publishing and a desire to understand more about the process led her to volunteer. She said: “Taking part in the Book Sprint was the one of the best opportunities I could have had in my first year here at Nottingham. It was a brilliant way to meet like-minded people in order to write something meaningful and useful.”
The legacy of the book sprint isn’t just the book. It’s also the video that Eve Wood and Simon Barnett took over the three days and then edited. I think the video shows that the book sprint really did make an important contribution to The Academic Book of the Future. The students worked collaboratively, mainly online, using cloud computing. This allowed them to work 24/7, very often in different places. The students were able to make collaborative decisions, either face to face, or virtually. This meant that they were able to maximise their time, making as much use of the three days as possible. Sometimes as academics, particularly in the Arts and Humanities, we forget about collaboration. In my own work, collaboration has been laborious and difficult. And yet the benefits of collaborative working, particularly interdisciplinary work, can add a new dimension to our research. This synthesis comes not only through a shared academic interest but also through a willingness to engage with what might be called a collaborative methodology. I think the students have shown us the way here through the three-day Book Sprint, and I personally want to thank them.