2. Computer-Supported Collaborative Writing

2.2 Collaborative learning

2.2.1 Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL)

2.2.2.2 Scaffolding peer-collaboration

Various studies mentioned above (Kollar & Fisher, 2010; Gielen et al., 2010), as well as Dillenbourg and Fischer’s (2007) summary of the main ideas of CSCL, mention the importance of an adequate scaffolding of the activities in which participants are asked to collaborate, either for building new knowledge together, or to comment and provide feedback to one another, as collaboration is generally not spontaneous and needs to be guided. In a computer supported environment, collaboration scripts can be provided either by the teacher or by the technological tools used for the activity, and can be characterized by single, directive, prompts, or by long explanations. Additionally, they can contain suggestions and flexible prompts, as well as more prescriptive instructions (Dillenbourg & Fischer, 2007).

Various researchers studying the impact of scaffolding on collaborative learning, were interested by the comparison of structured and unstructured peer feedback in CSCL environments. In order to observe the impact of structured feedback over learning and compare it with unstructured peer-feedback, Gielen & De Wever (2012) conducted an experimental study with Educational Sciences students. They compared a condition in which no particular instruction was provided for the feedback process, with one in which learners were provided with a structured form in order to improve the quality of their feedback. Even though they were not able to observe a significant difference in the

Giulia Ortoleva  Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn

46 learning effect between the two conditions, the results revealed that students who provided and received structured peer-feedback showed a more critical attitude in the feedback process, confirming Berg’s results (1999) about the role of peer-feedback in stimulating critical thinking. Moreover, learners in the structured feedback condition had a better perception of the feedback received by others, considering them more profound and detailed. Noroozi et al. (2013) observed the impact of structured transactive discussion scripts on the argumentative knowledge construction of university students. The transactive scripts they analysed asked learners to paraphrase, criticize, ask questions propose counterarguments and syntheses of the work of the colleague of a multidisciplinary dyad, while performing the task of analysing and solving a problem related to both fields of the two participants. Coherently with the previously mentioned research results, they observed how transactive discussion scripts, compared with unstructured feedback, facilitated argumentative knowledge construction. Learners in this condition acquired more specific and domain-general knowledge.

Kollar, Fischer, & Hesse (2006) compared the collaboration scripts associated with face-to-face learning situations, with the type of scaffolding usually applied in computer-supported collaborative environments. Among the various differences they identified in the two types of scripts, it is important to point out that face-to-face scripts are often directed towards the individual knowledge acquisition of learners participating in the collaborative activity. On the other hand, the scaffolding used for computer-mediated collaboration are typically directed towards a facilitation of the communicative process among the group members. These authors consider that these two types of scripts should be integrated so as to support both individual knowledge acquisition, and to facilitate participants’

interaction in collaborative learning tasks. In a previous research, Weinberger et al. (2003) had analysed the impact of two types of collaboration scripts, interaction-oriented structuring tools and content-oriented structuring tools, in a computer-supported collaborative environment. The results of their analysis showed a positive impact of the interaction oriented scripts, which enhanced the process and the outcomes of the activity, and produced the intended collaborative knowledge construction, while no positive results could be observed as a consequence of the implementation of content-oriented structuring tools.

Wang et al. (2011) conducted an interesting research on the use on the use of adaptable scripting in a CSCL environment. Participants were divided in two conditions, one group was provided with a series of fixed prompts to guide their interaction, while the other group was provided with the same prompts, which were, on the other hand, adaptable. In this sense, learners could reduce or increase the scaffolding in the various phases of their collaboration. The results of this study showed that learners in the adaptable scripting condition had enhanced individual knowledge acquisition of both domain specific knowledge and domain general skills, when compared with their colleagues. This is in line with Dillenbourg and Tchounikine’s (2007) notion of the need, for scripts in CSCL environments to

47 be flexible. Additionally, Wang et al. suggest that the benefits of this adaptability in the activity scripting can also be explained in the perspective of self-regulated learning, which produces a cognitive and motivational engagement of the learners in self-monitoring, in the establishment of learning goals, and in the utilisation of learning strategies (Zimmerman, 2008). On a similar perspective, Gavota, Schneider, & Bétrancourt (2010) conducted a study in which they observed the advantages of the fading in the scripting of a CSCL activity over time, if compared to a condition in which the scaffolding elements would remain fixed and not evolve throughout the implementation of the activity. In this sense, scripting revealed particularly useful at the beginning of an activity, but had, on the other hand, a negative impact if it continued throughout its successive implementations.

All of the above studies allowed us to trace a series of characteristics associated with effective scaffolding of written peer-collaboration. Among them, as mentioned, the necessity of providing structured prompts for collaboration, their focus on both interaction and communication among the participants of a collaborative work, and on the content and the process of individual knowledge acquisition during the activity. Additionally, the adaptability and progressive fading of these scripts represent also factors increasing the effectiveness of collaborative learning methods. The next section will be dedicated to analysing the impact that technology has on writing and collaborative writing activities, and the types of computer support that can be used for the implementation of the kind of collaborative activities analysed.

48

2.3 Computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development

The content of this chapter is based on:

Ortoleva, G. & Bétrancourt, M. (2014a) Computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development. In Rijlaarsdam (Series Ed.), G. Ortoleva, M. Bétrancourt & S. Billett (Vol. Eds.), Studies in Writing: Writing for Professional Development. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill (submitted).

49 2.3.1 Introduction

Computers have become prevalent in most professional activities, whether it is for administrative management or to perform core professional operations, like troubleshooting in car mechanics or computer-assisted surgery. Professional writing, in particular, occurs mainly on computers and is no longer restricted to secretarial work. However, vocational programmes rarely offer dedicated computer-supported writing classes in the school or training place, as found in a large survey examining the development of vocational educational training in 31 European countries (Tessaring &

Wannan, 2004). Yet, the trainees are asked to return printed project reports. The computer is thus considered as a mere production tool in which affordances for professional writing are largely ignored.

In addition, computers and more generally digital technology, also known as ICT (information and communication technology), offer great potential for deep learning and innovation in teaching (Molenda, 2007), provided that they are used in an instructionally relevant way (i.e., in compliance with cognitive, instructional, and social constraints).

This chapter presents an overview of the way computer technology can be used to facilitate and support individual and collaborative writing, with the perspective of fostering learning and professional development. The first section identifies the functions and affordances offered by technology to support different aspects of the writing activity. A special attention will be given to tools oriented towards collaboration (e.g., wikis, blogs, eportfolios, computer-supported argumentation), which are considered particularly relevant to promoting the social and cognitive processes underlying professional development. In particular, this type of collaborative activities can contribute to the building of communities of practice, particularly influential in the professional development of learners (Wenger, 2000), as well as to collaborative knowledge building, where learners co-construct their knowledge (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). The second section provides examples of studies involving two types of computer-supported collaborative writing activities, oriented respectively towards collaborative production and asynchronous discussions, in two different domains: teacher education and health.

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