This section explores the effects of collaborative writing in L2 classrooms using the Google Docs service. Previous research suggests that completing writing tasks in collaboration offers learners an opportunity to cooperate and solve their language-related problems, co-construct new language knowledge, and produce linguistically more accurate written texts (Dobao, 2012). Therefore, this section will discuss the usage of collaborative and face-to-face writing methods, especially in L2 classrooms. It will then outline the theoretical background of Collaborative Learning and review Collaborative Learning and Writing skills. Finally, it will discuss the significance of using Google Documents and the service’s relevance in Collaborative Writing.
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2.1 Collaborative Learning: Definition and Discussion
In this study, collaborative learning is defined as an educational approach that emphasizes active and collective efforts of participation and interaction on the part of both students and a teacher. This definition derives from other existing definitions regarding collaborative learning, such as “group work,” “computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL),” “collaborative learning,” and “cooperative learning.” All of these notions are common terms found in research investigating teaching and learning within the new educational paradigm that focuses on interactive and student-centered learning. Group work is normally used as a general term referring to all sorts of tasks a group of people performs to achieve a certain goal.
2.2 Collaborative Learning and Co-operative Learning
In the context of language learning, when group work is used as a teaching strategy, the major confusion arises between collaborative and co-operative learning. Below the paper will distinguish between these terms and analyze the commonalities and differences between them.
Due to their conceptual proximity, researchers have been arguing regarding the relation between collaborative learning and cooperative learning for a long period. Some researchers perceive cooperative learning and collaborative learning as “two versions of the same thing” (Bruffee, 1999) because both cooperative learning and collaborative learning have certain overlaps in their typical characteristics (for example, shared knowledge and authority, socially co-constructed knowledge through peer interactions) and long-term goals (to help students learn by working together on substantive issues). However, other researchers (Dillenbourg, 1999; Roberts, 2004) have tried to clarify different characteristics of the terms to help people in the field better understand the nature of interactive learning in research and practice. Nevertheless, their explanations are not consistent. Furthermore, Bruffee (1999) proposes addressing the differences between cooperative learning and collaborative learning in terms of their primary goals and educational levels.
In terms of education levels, cooperative learning is better applied in elementary schools, tapering off during high school. Collaborative learning is more appropriate at the college and university levels, when students are more able to control the learning process by themselves. The difference in educational levels between the two concepts is reflected in the various studies related to English language education.
The differences above indicate that cooperative learning emphasizes and guarantees accountability when students work in groups through a structured process. Nevertheless, collaborative learning, in its turn, often employs the same strategies as those used in cooperative learning, such as small group and peer interactions to engage learners (Bruffee, 1999). In this study, the researcher chooses collaborative learning rather than cooperative learning to describe English language learning through peer interactions and small groups, following the predominant technology in other studies (Toung & Kelly, 2004).
2.3 Theoretical Background of Collaborative Learning
Among various theories that support cooperative and collaborative learning, the three following fundamental theories have been extensively addressed: (a) socio-cultural constructivism, (b) situated and distributed cognition, and (c) social interdependence. The common tenets of these three theories have not only served as underlying frameworks of cooperative learning in educational settings but also as effective tools in traditional college classes. In addition, the underlying assumptions of these three theories explain why and how the collaborative learning approach should be implemented in English language teaching education. What follows is an elaborated explanation regarding the three theories and their implications for teaching and learning in classroom environments.
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2.3.1 Socio-cultural Constructivism
Broadly speaking, constructivism falls into two categories: cognitive constructivism and socio-cultural constructivism (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). Cognitive constructivism asserts that learning occurs within an individual’s constructions, whereas socio-cultural constructivism focuses on the socially and culturally situated context and environments of cognition, which is often achieved through group-based learning via the means of interaction, communication, and collaboration. Furhtermore, the key principle of socio-cultural constructivism is to co-construct knowledge through the interaction and collaboration with people and contexts involved in learning. The socio-cultural constructivist perspective of teaching implies that it is implicitly conducted to scaffold learners while they are constructing and exploring their own knowledge through the interaction with prompts in learning context, learning peers, and other kinds of mediations.
2.3.2 Situated and Distributed Cognition
Situated and distributed cognition are the learning theories grounded on multiple perspectives of learning. These two theories represent a major shift from traditional psychological views on learning as static and individualistic to learning as dynamic and social. Situated cognition claims that the processes of thinking, learning, and cognition belong to particular contexts and possess authentic social and cultural features. The situated cognition theory encourages educators to immerse learners in contextualized learning environments where learners actually perceive or physically interact during the learning process (Wilson & Myers, 2000). Distributed cognition emphasizes components of learning systems and meaningful ways of sharing (Bell & Winn, 2000). For a distributed cognitive system to succeed, information must be shared between teachers, students, and communities in a meaningful way through conceptual learning conversations within collaborative knowledge-building communities. Situated cognition and distributed cognition theoretically support the use of collaborative learning in general settings where learners explore knowledge through sharing, communication, negotiation, and support.
2.3.3 Social Interdependence Theory
As discussed above, socio-cultural constructivism, distributed cognition, and situated cognition assert that learning happens through the interaction, communication, and meaningful sharing among components, such as learners, instructors, and artifacts, in real-world settings where social and cultural contexts have an impact on learning. The social interdependence theory provides practical guidelines on the effective design of collaborative learning. Developed from the ground work by Kurt Koffka in the early 1990s, the social interdependence theory is considered to be the most important conceptual framework that provides information on cooperative and collaborative learning (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith,1998). The basic premise of the social interdependence theory is that the manner in which social dependence is structured determines how individuals interact, which, in turn, determines learning outcomes.
Theare are three types of social interdependence that have specific functions. First, positive interdependence (cooperation) tends to result in promotive interaction (individuals encourage and facilitate each other to learn); second, negative interdependence (competition) tends to result in oppositional interaction; third, no interdependence (individualistic) results in an absence of interaction (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998).
According to this framework, when social interdependence is positively structured, promotive interaction occurs, in the course of which individuals will encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts to reach a group’s goals. Its components are positive interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, appropriate use of social skills, and group processing. Although face-to-face promotive interaction is possible for English learners, the five components of effective cooperation serve as practical guidelines for English educators to design and implement collaborative learning in English language classes (Palloff & Pratt, 1999).
In conclusion, socio-cultural constructivism is an overarching theoretical foundation of the study in which specific designs of learning activities are particularly supported by distributed cognition, situated cognition, and the social interdependence theory.
2.4 The Key Elements of Collaborative Learning
Collaborative learning is a highly structured classroom technique designed to promote peer learning. The key to success in collaborative learning compared to other forms of discussion-based learning is its sophisticated structure. A widely used model of collaborative learning has been developed by David and Roger Johnson at the University of Minnesota. It consists of the following components (Johnson et al., 1991).
2.4.1 Positive Interdependence
Positive interdependence is the relationship whitin a group of students according to which the positive and negative aspects that affect one member of a group influence everyone in a group. In other words, an individual student’s success depends on the efforts of other student. To achieve positive interdependence between the participants of the study, grouping and instructing them may appear to be insufficient. On the contrary, ways of promoting positive interdependence in a group include providing them with goals, rules, resources, and identity. It is critical to note that positive interdependence can be introduced by the provision of task structure and by the incorporation of reward structure. Other ways in which positive interdependence can be encouraged include assigning roles, goals, and source.
2.4.2 Individual Accountability
The procedures of assessment may vary depending on the possibilities for the actual adoption of individual or group assessment. To obtain the most accurate assessment results, each student is ultimately individually assessed, and the other members of a group assure that each individual can adequately represent a group. In case such an evaluation does not allow to expose relevant statistics, a researcher may assess the whole group. The study suggests using one of traditional means of evaluation, which is written examinations, to promote objective results. At the same time, in the case of the selection of individual assessment, any learner can randomly be asked to present the group work. Typically, a major part of a students’ grade is based on his or her individual work. Interpersonal and small group skills, such as a leadership, trust building, and conflict management, are specifically taught and explicitly reinforced in students.
2.4.3 Group Processing
Members of the group spend time together, reflecting on and assessing the working relationship among members. A well-structured group processing tool will provide formative feedback to the members of the group regarding their functionally as a group, with the goal being to improve group skills in the future.
2.5 Overview of Research on Collaborative Learning
In English language education, in addition to epistemological challenges, technology capability, and affordability in the past also limited collaborative learning. For years, a typical model of traditional education has been a top-down and one-way direction. Consequently, teachers decide on the content and curriculum and then teach them to learners who are geologically separated from teachers. Those learners mainly try to learn the content alone by themselves.
2.5.1 Learning Outcomes Generated From Collaborative Learning
Two studies conducted in 2004 raised researchers’ attention to the observation of collaborative learning in different conditions. Joung and Keller (2004) examined the effect of collaborative learning in high-structured groups and low-structured collaborative groups. When comparing the collaborative learning in two collaboration conditions, it was discovered that high-structured groups showed better critical thinking than low-structured groups. Rose (2004) conducted a similar study, comparing productive dialogue in a high-structured (cooperative) group and a low-structured (collaborative) group. The study determined that the high-structured group generated a more “interconnected” or “cohesive” dialogue in problem-based tasks.
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2.6 Collaborative Learning and Writing Skills
The process of collaborative writing implies that writing tasks are performed by more that one individual. Modern practices in collaborative writing are successfully applied in second language classrooms (L2). However, this research suggests that it is possible to increase the limit of its usage in L2 classes. The performed analysis of literature revealed that the researchers prepared a firm theoretical basis for its usage. However, the scope of empirical researches that approve or disprove the obtained theoretical postulates about collaborative writing in L2 classes is scarce. As a result, the benefit of this research is that it allows to put the incorporated theoretical basis through the framework of an empirical investigation.
The obtained materials can be divided in several sections depending on the aspects of the focus of investigation. Thus, some of them discuss the results gained in the course of collaborative writing avtivities. Their main method of investigation is the contrast of the individual and collaborative writing groups with the aim of revealing their productivity and generated text adequacy. Such a method allowes to reveal the aspect of influence of collaborative writng on the process of language learning in general. Furthremore, there are investigations that take into account the brain processes initiated by means of collaborative writing. Lastly, modern studies of collaborative learning methodology include the ones performed with the assistance of computers and digital technology. These researches are of the key interest tol the current investigation.
The analysis of the recent experiences in the usage of digital technologies with the aim of assisting the educational process is associated with the achievement of various benefits. However, despite the fact that in the past researchers focused mostly on in-class activities, modern scholars claim that social networks, digital encyclopedias, and other similar means of digital communication may also be used to gain benefits through collaborative interaction (Warschauer & Grimes, 2007). Thus, the current research is valid because it suggests using one of the modern massively used Web 2.0 technologies for the benefit of inclass activities and education overall. Moreover, modern researchers argue regarding the usage of digital communication methods with the porpuse of intensifying language learning processes. In this respect, scholars have started connecting online technology and collaborative writing since the mid-1990s (Tettegah & Hunter, 2006). A recent example of such a study is an attempt of comparing direct and computer-assisted collaborative writing activities with L2 learners as main subjects (Tan, Wigglesworth, & Storch, 2010). One of the most important benefits of this research was the discovery that computer-medicated communication during the performance of language learning tasks initiated cooperation between the subjects of the experiment. The main mode that allowed to achieve this result suggested turn-by-turn sentence proposition, which, nevertheless, did not initiate any feedbacks from the counterpart. As a result, such websites as internet-based encyclopedias did not initiate complete collaboration, which may differ from other forms of computer-assisted communication.
The analyzed literature allows to state that modern scholars approve the beneficial influence of collaborative writing. For instance, Kim (2008) claims that the most important aspect that collaborating offers is the need for using linguistic resources for the creation of content and the solving of actual language tasks. Although this process is more challenging to students than common writing, it allows to put a special accent on the importance of the usage of language resources during classes. As a consequence, collaborative writing assignments propose not only short language practices framed by concrete tasks but also make students directly interact with the studied language. Conseqently, one’s existing L2 knowledge becomes consolidated due to actual in-class situations that result in a range of direct and immediate benefits for all participating students. Moreover, it is suggested that the material produced during the process of collaborative writing is more accurate and free from typical mistakes of an individual, which is another advantage.
2.7 Online Learning
The process of online learning is an educational approach that uses the Internet as the main means of communication and data transfer. The terms defining this process may differ among various stakeholders, for example, “distance learning,” “e-learning,” and other terms. A distinctive feature of this means of education is that it is performed not in classrooms, which is why the characteristic “distance learning” is more relevant. Throughout the decades of its existence, this type of learning generated different approaches, which are divided into the following courses:
· Tele-courses, with television or radio broadcasted content;
· Correspondence courses that use traditional mail as a form of distant interaction beween teachers and students;
· Compact-disc distributed courses, which use the principles of letter distribution, but which also require computer usage for the interaction with the distributed content;
· Mobile courses with cell phones, tablets, and portable audio players as the main means of interaction with the content;
· Online courses that use the Internet as the main means of interaction between students and teachers in both simultaneous and non-simultaneous sessions.
The analysis of the types of available modes of distant learning leads to the fact that modern pedagogics is modified by them. One of the most significant differences is the absence of traditional lectures where students remain mostly passive and either succeed or fail to delivered material. Instead, online students have to be active in order to obtain and comprehend the required material. Moreover, such aspects as collaborative education may intensify the process of learning, which is mostly important for language learning.
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2.8 Online Collaborative Learning and Writing
Recent changes in online education towards being collaborative are beneficial for such processes as learning and writing. Thus, despite the fact that this mode of learning is beneficial, it may be enhanced with the usage of the Internet. In this respect, scholars claim that one of the advantages of online collaboration is the ability of initiating students’ interation even when they unable to meet at their education facilities (Macdonald, 2006). This online decision-making process allows students to share their responsibilities (Storch, 2013, Haring-Smith, 1994) and leads to a collective process of cognitive collaboration.
The benefits of collaborative learning and the usage of digital technologies are also important for teachers. In this respect, experts claim that teachers and researchers gain advantages due to the usage of digital technologies during collaborative tasks in learning because they offer different tools (Elola & Oskoz, 2010). For instance, teachers can engage students in the processes of content creation and content revision performed through the framework of collaboration (Kessler, 2009). Thus, different digital technology tools may be used in various settings, allowing teachers and students to achieve their education goals in more efficient ways and even outperform the estimated results. For instance, by means of modeling a collaborative discourse, teachers can either prepare their students for future cooperation, which is of critical importance (Fung, 2010; Storch, 2005), or track their progress in this activity (Elola & Oskoz, 2010). As a result, the successful implementation of this methodology allows to improving students’ and teachers’ autonomy as well as prospective and beneficial interation. This statement is supported by one of the recent researches that approved the efficacy of the Internet-based collaborative writing. An important aspect of this investigation is that it assessed English Language L2 US university students. During the experiment, the participats were divided into two groups, with the first one performing web-based tasks and another one completing similar but Interned-based assignments. The outcomes of the research allow to state that the Internet-based studies intensified the process of learning and resulted in greater knowledge gains, which were reflected in individual writing scores (Bikowoski & Vithanage, 2016). Therefore, this method would be beneficial as the basis for the current investigation.
Lastly, with time, collaborative writing helps to develop and obtain new means of interaction with students. Online encyclopedias, online text processing applications (Kessler, 2009), social networks, chats, blogs (Sun & Chang, 2012; Elola & Oskoz, 2010), and other Internet-based resources are among these means.
2.9 Using Google Documents for Benefits of Collaborative Writing
Among a variety of digital collaborative learning tools, Google Docs is a user-friendly application that can be used for the benefits of collaborative writing. This software is a free online word-processing tool that allows to create different documents, from simple texts to spreadsheets, diagrams, and other articles. Another advantage is that Google offers a cloud storage service that allows to store and access documents at any time. Scholars approve that its capabilities are worth incorporing in the process of collaborative learning (Thompson, 2008). Moreover, Google Docs has an interface that is easy to understand, which reduces the amount of time required for instructing students. This paper focuses on the usage of Google Documents as a text processing tool that any writer may use to enhance his or her performance. At the same time, the main difference of Google Docs from other text processing tools is that its user may share the content online, publish it, or engange in collaboration with other users. In addition, a user of the service can set personalized restrictions that allow only specified users to view the content or collaborate. Therefore, these functions make it possible to use it for collaborative online writing tasks associated with language learning.
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Although it has been acknowledged that collaborative learning is a vital source for L2 learning in the classroom, it appears to be restricted to mere oral tasks. Thus, literature on collaborations related to writing tasks tends to be comparatively rare. Moreover, even when collaborative writing is used to execute writing tasks, it usually focuses only on brainstorming peer feedback. In foreign language contexts, the collaborative approach using technology is modestly utilized in the classrooms, and despite the increasing recognition of the significance of the collaborative approach in terms of the language development using technology, teaching writing in Saudi Arabia still exists in a form of teacher-oriented instructions. Therefore, this study intends to provide a concrete example of the utilization of collaborative writing using Google Documents in L2 classrooms in Saudi Arabia.
This section discusses the theoretical and practical relevance of collaborative learning to enhance writing skills. In addition, it sheds light on the use of the Internet, Google Documents in particular, as a tool-cum-interface for teaching and enhancing collaborative writing.