Google Docs as a Tool for Collaborative Writing in the Middle School Classroom

Megan P Woodrich, Yanan Fan
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 16  •  2017  •  pp. 391-410

In this study, the authors examine how an online word processing tool can be used to encourage participation among students of different language back-grounds, including English Language Learners. To be exact, the paper discusses whether student participation in anonymous collaborative writing via Google Docs can lead to more successful products in a linguistically diverse eighth-grade English Language Arts classroom.

English Language Learners (ELLs) make up a considerable portion of elementary and secondary public school students, as language and ethnic diversity has become the norm in the United States. The research literature finds that ELLs are statistically behind their monolingual peers on such key language and academic development indicators as writing. Educators and researchers then turn to collaborative writing with the assistance of online technology. Although it is shown in literature to be a worthwhile endeavor for students of all ages and ability levels, no studies have investigated the differences it makes, namely, in comparison to traditional face-to-face collaboration in the classroom, and to anonymous online collaboration in the virtual space.

Through face-to-face, online, and anonymous writing activities, a rubric, and a survey, this quantitative study asks if anonymous collaborative writing, com-pared to other modalities, equalizes participation among students of varying language fluencies, and if anonymous collaborative writing, compared to other modalities, affect student comfort levels.

This builds on research of online collaborative writing tools and suggests that using such tools (Google Docs in particular) is beneficial, especially for students who are building their language abilities. The study further reveals varied degree of success and student comfort level in participating writing tasks in three modalities.

We ascertain that students of varying language fluencies participated more equally when they were able to remain anonymous. Face-to-face writing exhibited the highest overall scores, and students enjoyed working on Google Docs.

Future and current teachers are encouraged to be open to new technologies and be creative in the use of technology to facilitate student learning. They should have the opportunity to participate in the discussion on how, not if, integrating technology impacts the cognitive, social, and cultural dimensions of teaching.

After this initial quantitative study on students’ reactions to various modalities of technology-supported writing formats, the next questions to ask may be how students were engaging in dialogues during face-to-face sessions or chat features of Google Docs trials, and what types of edits students are making. Researchers should turn their focus on secondary school classrooms where there is an increasing impact of technology-assisted collaborative writing on student learning and teaching pedagogy.

As online technology has become an integral part of daily life, it is beneficial to educators, policy makers, and classroom teachers to understand how technology can be integrated in writing programs and to what extent the integration can help boost student motivation and participation.

More longitudinal research on online assisted collaborative writing and addi-tional quantitative data are needed to further understand the complexities of the writing process in-group online writing and the nature of collaboration.

English language learners, writing instruction, technology, middle school, col-laborative writing tools
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