2. Computer-Supported Collaborative Writing

2.2 Collaborative learning

2.2.1 Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Written peer-collaboration

Among the various types of collaboration that can be initiated in computer-supported collaborative writing environments, peer-feedback represents an interesting option, requiring learners to comment on each other’s work. Even though the interaction between learners in this type of activity is sometimes limited, it still offers learners with the possibility of developing new knowledge and understanding in collaboration with others. In this sense, it is considered by the research community

43 as a collaborative learning activity (Shekary & Tahririan, 2006; van Gennip, Segers, & Tillema, 2010;

Kollar & Fischer, 2010). Different forms of peer-feedback have been implemented and studied, on the basis of the idea that peer exchange can have some important beneficial effects on the learning process (Davies, 2002) and, according to Dochy & McDowell (1997), it can support the development of important skills related to communication, self-evaluation, observation and self-criticism.

Two main type of peer-feedback can be identified in literature: in peer-comment activities, learners are asked to provide more formative comments to the work of their colleagues, providing them with constructive criticism and suggestions (Gielen, Peeters, Doch y, Onghena, & Struyven, 2010; van der Pol, van den Berg, Admiraal, & Simons, 2008). On the other hand, in peer-assessment activities, participants are asked to evaluate and rate each other’s performance, providing therefore a summative feedback (De Wever, Van Keer, Schellens, & Valcke, 2011; Gielen & De Wever, 2012; van Gennip, Segers, & Tillema, 2010). Van der Pol and colleagues (2008), identified two main features associated with the use of peer-comment and peer-assessment: in the first place, learners can receive numerous comments on their work, rather than only the one provided by the teacher of the class (Gielen, et al.

2010). Additionally, this practice resembles to professional practice, in which providing and receiving comments to colleagues is a normal learning procedure (Billett, 2002; Eraut, 2004). The activity of peer-commenting is also interesting as it offers two contemporary learning opportunities to participants, as both providing and receiving comments can impact learning outcomes (Tseng & Tsai, 2007). The impact of producing peer-feedback on learning is more directly associated with the behaviour of each student, as it directly relates to the efforts students put in this type of activity.

Additionally, while performing this task, students learn how to evaluate their own production (Dochy, Segers, & Sluijsmans, 1999; Topping, 2003). On the other hand, the results of the reception of feedback from others is more difficult to estimate. This is particularly due to the fact that colleagues are not experts on the topic (van der Pol et al. 2008), which means that the feedback they provide may not be correct, or may be misleading for the receiver (Gielen et al., 2010). However, it is important to mention that Tseng and Tsai (2007) observed a significant correlation between teachers’ and peers’

assessments and concluded that peer-assessment can be considered as a valid assessment method.

Additionally, De Wever at al. (2011), in an experimental study conducted with Educational sciences students, observed that peer-assessment has a rather high reliability. In this sense, the assessment produced by different learners were highly consistent, and this reliability increased when it was explained to them, since the beginning, the presence of a peer-assessment task and the criteria they should consider to perform it. A similar result was identified by Xiao & Lucking (2008), who observed both the reliability of students’ generated feedback, as well as the similarity of them and teacher’s generated scores and both results revealed significantly high.

Regardless the high level of reliability of peer-feedback, it was observed that learners often have reservations about peer-assessment, as they do not appreciate their work being commented by a peer,

Giulia Ortoleva  Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn

44 considering it unfair and questioning the peer’s qualifications to take this role (Kaufmann & Schunn, 2010). In this sense, learners usually do not consider their colleagues as “knowledge authorities”

(Hanrahan & Isaacs, 2001). Teacher feedback, on the other hand, is always accepted as such but it may produce misinterpretation and miscommunication in some cases. Interestingly, reservations regarding peer-feedback may encourage students in a process of mindful reception of feedback (Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, Morgan, 1991), pushing them to engage in discussions and to look for confirmation of the comments received in textbooks or other media (Yang, Badger, & Yu, 2006).

This mindful reception is crucial to determine the benefits of peer-feedback activities. According to van Gennip et al. (2010) learners’ initial hostility towards peer-feedback can be caused by insufficient introduction to its process. Students’ conceptions of the activity positively evolves as they gain more experience with this type of assessment (Dochy & McDowell, 1997).

Various researchers analysed which characteristics of peer-feedback had an impact on students’

performance in a task. Gielen et al. (2010) observed that constructiveness of feedback reveals as a very important characteristic, impacting performance, but only in learners who had initially a low performance. Additionally, confirming previous research (i.e. Bangert-Drown et al, 1991; Narciss &

Huth, 2006), the presence of justification for the comments and observations provided, as well as the accuracy, also appeared as an important characteristics of peer-feedback. Nelson & Schunn (2009), on the other hand, analysed which characteristics of peer-feedback determine its acceptation and implementation by the receiver (for example modification of the produced text), and concluded that a feedback was more probably implemented when the receiver could precisely understand the problem the colleague identified. Three feedback characteristics seemed to impact the understanding of a problem, and more precisely: the clear identification of a solution, the indication of the precise location of the problem, and the presence of a summary of the feedback. On the other hand, explicit explanations of the problem revealed, in this research, counterproductive, as they produced misunderstandings. These results confirm the need for a training, guidance and quality control on peer-feedback, in order to encourage students at providing in their interactions the fundamental elements of a peer-feedback, which would have a higher impact on colleagues’ performance (Webb &

Mastergeorge, 2003).

Van Gennip and colleagues (2010) conducted a research with the objective of understanding the nature of learning in peer-assessment tasks. In particular, they were interested in analysing the impact of interpersonal variables in this process. In order to perform this analysis, they modelled the interpersonal variables playing a role in this type of assessment, and identified four variables they anticipated could impact peer-assessment results: 1) Psychological safety, indicating the beliefs of participants that it is safe to take risks in the group of people they are collaborating with. 2) Trust in the self and the peer as assessor, indicating that learners feel confident in providing feedback and in receiving comments from other. 3) Value diversity, refers to the ideas individuals have on what is

45 important for the group. This variable should be low for an effective performance. 4) Task interdependence, refers to the interconnections between tasks, and implies that the results to one activity is dependent on the completion of another activity. The results of this research highlighted how all the identified interpersonal variables have a significant influence on the perceived learning of students.

Using online platforms and environments in order to conduct peer-feedback activities presents a number of advantages: in the first place, it allows an easier access to others’ production, not requiring learners to be in the same physical environment and to conduct this activity at the same time.

Additionally, van der Pol and colleagues (2008) identified also pedagogical reasons in favour of this practice: teachers can maintain a control over the feedback process and guide the students in its execution, when this is considered important (Trahasch, 2004). Furthermore, online peer-feedback is more often followed by a revision of learners’ text, if compared to the face-to-face situation (Hewitt, 2000; Tuzi, 2004).

An interesting consideration that emerged from some the studies observed is associated to the idea that, for peer-feedback activities to work effectively, there is a need for an adequate structure and organisation of the task (Van der Berg, Admiral and Pilot, 2006a, Gielen et al., 2010). In the next paragraph we will consider the importance of scaffolding and structuring of activities in computer-supported collaborative learning contexts.

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