Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing

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Language Learning & Technology http://llt.msu.edu/issues/february2012/kesslerbikowskiboggs.pdf

February 2012, Volume 16, Number 1 pp. 91–109

COLLABORATIVE WRITING AMONG SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS IN ACADEMIC WEB-BASED PROJECTS Greg Kessler, Dawn Bikowski, and Jordan Boggs Ohio University This study investigates Web-based, project oriented, many-to-many collaborative writing for academic purposes. Thirty-eight Fulbright scholars in an orientation program at a large Midwestern university used a Web-based word processing tool to collaboratively plan and report on a research project. The purpose of this study is to explore and understand the changing nature of collaborative writing, as it is influenced by Web-based writing contexts. Details of students’ writing processes and their perceptions of the collaborative Web-based word processing experience are explored. Findings suggest that students focused more on meaning than form, that their grammatical changes were overall more accurate than inaccurate, that they participated with varying frequency, and that they used the tool for simultaneous varied purposes. Student feedback about the Web-based collaborative activity and use of Google Docs offers additional insights. Observations about the evolving nature of Web-based collaborative writing and associated pedagogical practices including considerations about student autonomy are discussed. Keywords: Collaborative Learning, Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Discourse Analysis, Learner Autonomy INTRODUCTION Collaborative practices are being increasingly advocated in second language classrooms largely in response to the collaborative potential of Web 2.0 tools. The literature reveals a noticeable increase in interest in collaborative writing (e.g., Arnold, Ducate, & Kost, 2009; Elola & Oskoz, 2010; Kessler, 2009; Kessler & Bikowski, 2010; Storch, 2005). However, few collaborative writing projects, particularly involving more than two writers, are actually undertaken, and these types of projects have received little research (Storch, 2005). In particular, research on students’ perceptions of collaborative writing projects, “the nature of the [collaborative] writing process and of the written text produced” has received “scant attention” (Storch, 2005, p. 155). In fact, most of the research on collaborative writing is focused on texts produced for preparatory writing assignments and not on more extensive texts meant to stand on their own (Storch, 2005). As Storch (2005) notes, “To truly prepare students for collaborative writing may require a re-conceptualization of classroom teaching” (p. 169). Further, there is heretofore no research on collaborative writing with Web-based word processing in L2 contexts. The low number of collaborative writing projects and the restriction to pair work is likely due to logistical or environmental considerations such as face-to-face and online contexts where a single document is written by one student, then distributed to another student, and then returned to the original student for review. This sharing of a single original document requires students to work at the convenience of their partners. With newer technologies available, however, learners can more easily work in groups of three or more simultaneously. Newer technologies allow researchers insight into the L2 collaborative writing process and an increased understanding of how these technologies may affect the collaborative writing process. This study aims to fill the needs addressed above and understand the collaborative writing process involving more than two non-native English speaking writers working within a shared Web-based document. Collaborative Writing: Theoretical Bases, Benefits, and Concerns The literature has noted many benefits of collaborative writing. The theoretical basis for these projects largely rests on the work of Vygotsky (1978) with his emphasis on the role of social interaction in learning and on the concepts...
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