September 2020
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SYNCHRONOUS AND ASYNCHRONOUS TECHNIQUES TO INCREASE COLLABORATIVE WRITING: GOOGLE DOCS AND PADLET
Carlos Alvarez, Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary Branca Mirnic, Langara College, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Diego Navarro, Avanti Language School in Bogotá, Colombia


Carlos Alvarez


        Branca Mirnic


Diego Navarro

Collaborative work through the application of information and communication technologies has changed educational settings. In EFL and English for academic purposes contexts, the application of current educational technologies has helped students to work collaboratively to achieve different language writing outcomes. Synchronous and asynchronous models of online discussions improve student involvement in an online community. This anytime, anywhere access can also help shy or weaker students who need time to formulate their thoughts. Unfortunately, students’ personal online interactions influence the approach to online writing: The postings are often short, superficial, and lack critical thinking. Therefore, the goal of this article is to provide information about how to create online assignments to reinforce online writing, collaborative work, authentic feedback, and high-order cognitive learning in our students.

1. Improving Writing Skills Through Collaboration: Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based word processor tool that allows users to share documents and collaborate on an online platform. In EFL contexts, it has been applied by English instructors because of its benefits in monitoring students’ progress and helping them to foster their writing skills by performing interactive and meaningful writing tasks through collaboration (Nurmukhamedov & Kerimova, 2017). Similarly, Lawrence and Lee (2016) state that Google Docs improves the students’ collaborative autonomous language learning by allowing students to provide authentic feedback and comments to their classmates’ work; correct language use, spelling, and grammar; and interact with classmates and instructors to improve their tasks.

Before starting to use Google Docs, make sure that both instructors and students have a Gmail account. To integrate Google Docs in class, it is important to plan the desired results and students’ learning objectives at the end of the application of this tech tool. Furthermore, when planning, instructors should consider that in order to use Google Docs efficiently, they need to provide explicit and sequence instructions that allow their students to focus on improving their writing skills in collaborative learning.

2. Enhancing Written Communication Tasks With Padlet

Padlet can also motivate students in writing. It is a web and mobile application that provides a blank canvas where text boxes or media can be uploaded by instructors and students in order to create visual aids that support learning, and more specifically, writing. According to Rashid et al. (2019), tools such as Padlet help learners to work within an environment that stimulates collaboration and enhances language accuracy.

To start using Padlet, create an account and start a new Padlet. Once it is set and shared through any of the sharing options, you are able to post instructions about the task. Padlet allows collaborators to post different kinds of media. Written tasks on Padlet can be adapted to any level, from simple sentences to more complex paragraphs, depending on the specific students’ level of production. According to Rahmawanti & Umam’s (2019) “...the use of Padlet in the classroom allows students to learn about their errors in writing and how to solve them” (p. 58).

In addition, when students are asked to write and show their pieces of writing online, they care about accuracy.

3. Asynchronous Online Writing

As with any writing project or task, it is important to set clear directions and rationales for it. Invest some minutes prior to use of these online tools to demonstrate how Google Docs or Padlet works and let the students interact with it to assure the success of this tool in class. It is important to remember that these digital tools are just a resource to empower the students’ motivation, but they will never replace your role as an instructor. Therefore, it is the instructor’s responsibility to create focused tasks that will emphasize the application of class materials, engage students, and allow feedback to promote further collaboration (Graham et al., 2001).

The following paragraphs explain three different strategies that can be used and adapted in order to apply synchronous and asynchronous writing tasks in the classroom.

Set up for Writing an Online Synthesis Paragraph

  1. Students are organized in pairs or in groups of three. They receive a different article to read, make margin notes, and choose good evidence for the writing question.
  2. Students share ideas from their assigned articles, paraphrase or summarize the source information as evidence for the supporting points, cite properly, and write together an outline for a synthesis paragraph. The outline is done in notes for two to three supporting ideas.
  3. Students write a complete, well-developed paragraph online individually based on the outline.
  4. Once the paragraph is done, the students read each other’s paragraphs and evaluate according to the criteria: topic and concluding sentences, the use of source information, and the writing style. In this collaboration, a peer can provide scaffolding while completing a shared task. In addition, by being able to see each other’s work and evaluate according to the same criteria the instructor uses, the students become better aware of the expectations of the assignment.


Three-Day Online Written Practice in Preparation for the Oral Debate

The following activities are done at home over a 3-day period. The purpose is to allow students to gain experience in the language of argumentation, source attribution, and acknowledgment of the opposition as a preparation for a high-stakes assessment of the oral debate.

  • Day 1: Students are organized in groups to present their side of the argument: Introduce it in two different points with good evidence and attribution of sources.
  • Day 2: Once the students read each other’s presentation of the argument, they ask clarification questions to get a sense of the opponents’ strengths or weaknesses. Then, they answer the questions and, if possible or necessary, cite the source. In the afternoon, the students start the rebuttal. Being asynchronous, it gives them time to think, address points directly, and find good sources that will likely have stronger evidence than their opponents. Students practice the language by showing effective communication skills.
  • Day 3: The rebuttal continues in the same manner until arguments are exhausted. In the evening, the students summarize their argument.


Criteria for evaluation include the guide for online written practice and writing consisting of clear statements for the main points, as well as well-chosen and synthesized source information. In the rebuttal, the points should be addressed directly and convincingly, as well as with source attribution, good debate language, and writing style.

Writing a Touristic Blog

In this activity, students can apply Google Docs to increase their writing collaborative skills. Even though it is demanding and needs a long time period to be conducted, it provides positive student writing outcomes. Thus, the following activity allows students to develop an authentic piece of writing that involves students’ reality and a need to offer truthful information for international students.

  1. Divide students into groups of three or four. After that, assign them group numbers, and ask each group to create and work together in a one Google Doc file.
  2. Assign them a performance task, such as making a touristic blog for international students who want to visit three touristic places in the country. Also provide a rubric based on the parameters you want students to achieve at the end of the task (e.g., ideas, language use, layout, headlines and captions, and final product).
  3. After this process, ask Group 1 to send their link to Group 2, Group 2 to Group 3, and so on until the last group sends their link to Group 1.
  4. By using the comment tool of Google Docs, the groups can provide authentic feedback to their classmate’s files.
  5. In the end, each group checks their classmates’ feedback and improves their final document by making changes according to their perspectives.


Conclusion

Google Docs and Padlet provide various benefits for EFL and English for academic purposes students. First, they allow instructors to monitor their students’ work and to identify common mistakes throughout the short- and long-term tasks they have to complete. Second, these platforms help students to improve their collaborative writing skills by providing different tools to share their ideas, comments, and suggestions, as well as provide authentic feedback to their partners in learning files based on real-life contexts.

References

Graham , C., Cagiltay , K., Lim, B-R, Craner , J., & Duffy, T. M. (2001, March-April). Seven principles of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses. Technology Source.

Lawrence, D., & Lee, K. W. (2016). Collaborative writing among second language learners using Google docs in a secondary school context. International Journal on E-Learning Practices (IJELP), 3, 63–81. https://jurcon.ums.edu.my/ojums/index.php/ijelp

Nurmukhamedov, U., & Kerimova, I. (2017). Google.Docs: Writing practices and potential use in ESL/EFL environments. In P. Hubbard & S. Ioannou-Georgiou (Eds.), Teaching English reflectively with technology (pp. 207–221). https://members.iatefl.org/downloads/sigs/LTSIG_ebook.pdf

Rahmawanti, M., & Umam, A. (2019). Integrating web 2.0 tools in writing class to promote assessment for learning. JEES (Journal of English Educators Society), 4, 53. https://doi.org/10.21070/jees.v4i2.2516

Rashid, A., Yunus, M., & Wahi, W. (2019). Using Padlet for collaborative writing among ESL learners. Creative Education, 10, 610–620. https://doi.org/10.4236/ce.2019.103044


Carlos Alvarez Llerena holds a master’s degree in language pedagogy. Currently, he is a PhD student in language pedagogy at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. He has been teaching EFL since 2009. His interests lie in curriculum design, computer-assisted language learning, and classroom-based research.


Branca Mirnic is an English for academic purposes instructor at Langara College, Vancouver, British Columbia. She holds a BA in English language and literature, a TESL diploma, and an MEd in English education (UBC). Her interests lie in academic competence, content-based instruction, and examining types of feedback which optimize language learning.

Diego Navarro holds a BA in education with English major from Universidad de Carabobo, Venezuela. He has more than 10 years teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language. He currently works for Avanti Language School in Colombia. His main areas of interest are computer-assisted language learning and emotions in teaching.

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