3. Presentation of the research

3.3 Research Project

3.3.3 Research plan Global organisation of the research

Throughout this research, two main interventions were conducted. In particular, the second intervention represented an evolution and adaptation of the previous one, and, as Figure 6 shows, additional design

Giulia Ortoleva  Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn

78 elements, stimulating different processes, were included in this intervention. The writing activity became longer and extended to more sessions and the peer-commenting phase of the second scenario was organised around two cycles. Additionally, the individual and collaborative writing activities were combined with a class discussion. The first intervention is associated with the first study described in this thesis, Collaborative vs. individual writing, while the second intervention is organised around the second and third studies of this manuscript, namely, The impact of collaborative writing and discussion on professional development and Patterns of vocational learners’ interaction on written critical incidents in a computer-supported environment.

It is important to mention in this context that a third intervention, based on an adapted version of this scenario, has been implemented in the last year of the project. Given that this intervention was to be conducted at least over one semester, becoming one of the teaching practices in the school, this PhD project could not include its results, in reason of the timeline foreseen for this thesis. More details will be provided in the Future Directions section.

In this section of the thesis, the characteristics of the interventions will be described. The rationale of the activity both associated with the research design and the learning scenario will be detailed. The full report of the research conducted and the result in each phase of the research will be provided in the following chapters.

79 Figure 6. Map of the research plan. In thicker frames are the activities and processes added in each intervention


80 First intervention

Research purpose, questions and hypotheses

This intervention represents the first research conducted in the framework of this analysis of the use of computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development. This research, which was based on a shorter-term approach if compared to the following ones, had two main purposes. On the one hand, its objective was to answer to a set of research questions and verify the hypotheses about the impact of this scenario on learning and self-efficacy beliefs. Additionally, the aim was to conduct a first testing of the scenario, with learners in the authentic vocational school context, in order to observe their reactions and approach to this type of activity, collecting a series of information about the characteristics and specificities of this educational path (social and health care assistants) and the apprentices involved in it.

A full account of this research will be provided in part three of this manuscript. This section focuses on the most important aspects of the methodology and scenario implemented, in order to describe its connections with the following one.

During this intervention, the impact of a peer-commenting activity on critical incidents (Flanagan, 1954;

Schluter et al., 2008) described in written text by each apprentice was analysed. The fundamental question was whether peer interaction on these critical situations, reproducing the exchange of ideas and suggestions among professionals typical in professional practice (Billett, 2002; Eraut, 2004), fosters apprentices’ understanding of a specific practice and increases their self-efficacy beliefs related to its execution.

The main hypotheses were: 1) Writing about critical experiences and comparing one’s experience with others’ promotes understanding of procedures, more than a task only foreseeing writing of critical incidents; 2) Writing about critical incidents and comparing one’s experience with others’ fosters self-efficacy beliefs, more than a task only foreseeing writing of critical incidents. 3) The more participants engage in the sharing phase, by commenting and reconsidering their experiences, the more they learn through this activity. In order to verify these hypotheses, an evaluation before and after the activity was conducted, observing apprentices’ understanding of a procedure, through a test we designed for this purpose, and participants’ self-efficacy beliefs. Additionally, the participation to the task was measured both quantitatively and qualitatively.


As mentioned above, for this first implementation of our research, a quasi-experimental design was implemented, based on two different conditions. The two second year classes involved in the study (respectively 11 and 10 apprentices) were assigned to one of the following conditions: (1) Writing and Peer-commenting (WP, experimental); (2) Writing alone (W, control).

81 Scenario

The Writing and Peer-commenting group (experimental condition) followed the scenario below (represented in figure 7), while the writing group (control condition) skipped phase 2 (peer-commenting).

Figure 7. Scenario implemented in the first intervention

Session 1: Pre-Test - Apprentices answered to a test to evaluate their competence on the procedure (open case-based description of the act) and self-efficacy questionnaire.

Phase I: Using a wiki, each apprentice described a critical situation experienced in the workplace in relation to a given topic (washing a patient): what has happened, how they reacted, what were the consequences (critical incident).

Session 2: Phase IIa (1week later - only WP group): Apprentices were required to comment in the wiki on the incident described by one classmate. The prompts provided to the learners, in order to perform this task were the following: 1) ask questions (King, 2007); 2) provide comments; 3) consider other possible reactions to a similar situation (Kuhn, Shaw, & Felton, 1997).

Phase IIb (same session): Everyone responded to the questions and comments received by the classmate to their text. Then they reconsidered the incident occurred to them in light of the consideration of the classmate by describing the way they will react next time a similar situation occurs.

Giulia Ortoleva  Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn

82 Session 3: Post-Test (1week later): The apprentices answer to the test and the self-efficacy questionnaire


As mentioned above, a full account of this study, comprising the detailed description of its implementation and the results emerging from it will be provided in chapter four of this manuscript, based on Ortoleva, Schneider, & Bétrancourt (2013a).

Second intervention

Modifications and development from first intervention

During this intervention, the same parameters of the previous one were analysed, as the research questions observing the effects of writing and sharing critical experiences on apprentices’ understanding of a procedure and on their self-efficacy beliefs were applied to this research as well. However, three important modifications were made if compared to the previous research: on the one hand, the test to measure apprentices understanding of the procedures and the questionnaire evaluating their self-efficacy beliefs were redesigned, in order to overcome some problems that were encountered in the previous study. Additionally, in terms of design of the activity, in comparison with the previous scenario, the new one was longer, and included two complete writing and peer-commenting exercises, with the addition of an oral discussion phase. This discussion phase was handled by the teacher, who orchestrated and participated to the discussion about the difficult situations that can be encountered in the workplace, and talked about the experiences apprentices had written in their texts (Tynjälä, 1998). In this sense, the teacher assumed the central role of the orchestrator of the scenario (Dillenbourg & Jermann, 2010). She clustered and organised the situations encountered by the apprentices and lead the discussion in the class.

Finally, given the length and development of this intervention, a thorough analysis of the exchanges between the apprentices was conducted, aiming at having an in-depth representation of the productive exchanges performed on the platform and the trigger associated to them.

The analysis of this second intervention is structured around two main studies. For the first one, our research questions are: 1) Does writing about critical experiences, peer-commenting and discussing them (with the orchestration of the teacher) promote competence acquisition? 2) Does writing, peer-commenting and discussing in the classroom about critical situations prompt a re-adjustment of apprentices’ self-efficacy beliefs? 3) Is there a correlation among the level of engagement and participation of apprentices and their gain of understanding of procedures and modification in self-efficacy beliefs?

For the second study, on the other hand, more exploratory questions were also formulated: How do learners interact in this type of writing and peer-commenting activities? Can patterns of behaviour in the way they provide each other’s comments and suggestions, as well as in the way they react to the comments received by others, be identified? Also in this case, a full account of this research is provided in the two chapters describing each one of the studies (chapters 5 and 6). These chapters will provide a

83 description of the scenario and methodology of the intervention, so that it will be possible to trace an overview of the whole research, presenting the evolution and transition from the previous research to the following one.


As mentioned above, for this second intervention, for both ethical and methodological reasons, a more longitudinally based approach was implemented. In this sense, this activity was longer in time and more embedded in the regular curriculum of the school (as it was designed in full collaboration with the teachers of the school). The four classes involved in the intervention were two first and two second year classes (respectively 25 and 15 apprentices), both following the same instructional scenario.


The scenario followed by the apprentices participating in this research is represented in figure 8, and described below.

Figure 8. Scenario implemented in the second intervention

Giulia Ortoleva  Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn

84 Pre-Test - Apprentices answer a test to evaluate their competence on the procedure and self-efficacy


Session 1: Phase I - Using a wiki, apprentices describe a critical situation encountered in the workplace.

Phase II - Each apprentice comments on the experience of 2 colleagues (the prompts were the same as the ones provided in the previous study).

Phase III - The author responds to colleagues’ questions and comments (the prompts were the same as the ones provided in the previous study).

Session 2: Phase IV - Group discussion organised around the thematic areas discussed in the episodes reported by the apprentices.

Session 3: Phase V, I year - Learners were provided with external resources (journal articles, book sections, video excerpts) that revealed interesting insights on the topics emerged in their episodes and during the discussion. After reading and watching the material, learners had to reconsider the topic discussed and draw new conclusions, following a series of guiding questions.

Phase V II year - The session was dedicated to the integration of the aspects emerged from the first two steps: the writing activity together with the oral discussion. Learners were asked to read and comment again on their pages and those of their colleagues, in light of what they had learned through the writing task and the oral discussion.

Post-Test: Apprentices answer to the test, the self-efficacy questionnaire and a questionnaire about their subjective evaluation of the activity.

As mentioned above, a full account of this intervention, comprising the detailed description of its implementation and the results emerging from the two studies conducted in this framework will be provided in chapters five and six of this manuscript. Chapter five, based on Ortoleva & Bétrancourt (2014b) will consider the whole scenario and provide the results of the more quantitative analysis performed on apprentices’ competence and self-efficacy beliefs, together with their participation to the task and subjective evaluation of it. Chapter six, based on Ortoleva & Bétrancourt (2014c) will, on the other hand, consider the qualitative analysis on the patterns of written interactions of the apprentices in the first phase of this activity.


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