Synchronous collaborative L2 writing with technology - interaction and learning

Using shared documents technology for collaboration – an applied linguistics perspective with didactic implications.

Franz Steinberger 

(Betreuung: Prof. Dr. Angela Hahn)

Duration: Q1/2014-Q4/2017.

The project focussed on the very core of Web 2.0 (or The Social Web or The Participative Web etc.): collaboration – synchronous, collaborative text creation. Collaborative text creation in general (both analogue and digital) is not a new phenomenon: sending different versions of one document back and forth via e-mail is common practice in the real world. Simultaneous collaborative text editing, however, has only become possible and feasible through the use of Web 2.0 technology. GoogleDocs, Office 365 and Etherpad are probably the best-known representatives of this type of technology – each with their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Digital, synchronous, collaborative text creation is an entirely new way of working together and therefore not a God-given skill. The study focussed on the types of interaction, the negotiation of meaning and the collaborative writing process as evident in the students' task-related meta-discussions. The study was carried out with German students in an English for medical purposes course, who collaboratively created a patient handover in groups of 3 using synchronous shared documents technology.

The empirical, qualitative, exploratory research design relied primarily on content analysis as an instrument of data analysis. The study revealed that implementing a complex synchronous collaborative writing task in an (advanced) L2 setting creates perfect conditions for second language acquisition as students create, negotiate and take in large quantities of L2 material in a short amount of time. In a shared documents environment, all communicative tools are distributed evenly among participants and all communicative activity becomes transparent for both students and researchers. This led to high levels of participation and an effective working environment. The all-written and transparent nature of the collaborative interaction also made the collaborative writing process available for inspection. The analysis of students' meta-talk revealed that the collaborative writing process is just as dynamic in nature as the writing process of individuals. The inclusion of the collaborative process data as a means of student assessment remains a challenging yet valuable avenue for further research.