10 Feb 2013

The Role of Online Collaboration in Promoting ESL Writing

The Role of Online Collaboration in Promoting ESL Writing
(Free ELT Writing)

The study examined an ESL writing class,which consisted of 36 students, at a community college of Hong Kong. The students took part in three online collaborative writing tasks by sending drafts to peers who gave them suggestions and comments for improvement and working together on the completion of the writing tasks via email. 

The 36 students worked in small groups of four to six. They wrote, responded and revised using the email system offered by the WebCT interface of their course book. The results were evaluated by means of questionnaire, interview with participating students, report of the peer observer, written work, e-responses and reflective summaries of students. 

The overall results suggest that students generally enjoyed the supportive atmosphere created by online collaborative tasks and regarded the use of online collaboration as a means of improving their writing by enhancing their motivation, awareness of the audience and the importance of revising, and by reducing their stress and cultivating their positive attitudes towards writing. The data show that the inclusion of the online component has potential in supporting learning and bringing about positive learning effects on writing as learners were found to enjoy the benefit of interacting with the other learners both in-class and out-of-class in the study.

Keywords: Peer writing, Online collaboration, E-learning, Online learning, ESL writing, Collaborative writing

1. Introduction 
For decades, the use of information technology has been increasing in higher education and educational research has demonstrated that different ways of integrating the use of technology into classroom teaching have different effects on learning. In many cases, learning can be enhanced through the experience of a shared environment for discussing and working together. As an educational pedagogy that promotes learners’ autonomy and improves their writing skills, online collaboration has the potential to promote students’ learning (Curtis & Lawson, 2001; Kaplan, 2002). This study therefore tries to explore the use of online collaborative writing in ESL writing classes with the students of a community college in Hong Kong. The underlining assumption of the study is that online collaboration can help improve students’ writing skills by
  • motivating them to write 
  • enhancing their sense of audience 
  • teaching them the importance of revision
  • reducing stress in writing
  • cultivating positive attitudes towards writing 
Specifically, the purpose of the study is to find answers to the following questions: 
1. Does online collaboration help improve students’ writing? If so, does it help 
    1.1 motivate them in writing ? 
    1.2 increase their sense of audience? 
    1.3 teach them the importance of revision? 
    1.4 reduce their stress in writing? 
    1.5 cultivate positive attitudes towards writing? 
2. Is peer help beneficial to the students’ writing process? 
3. What are the limitations of the use of online collaboration in the proposed context?

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