Constructivism & Technology/Research & Writing
6. Collaborative Research and Writing
Collaborative learning is an instructional method that involves students working in pairs or small groups to achieve shared learning goals (Barkley, 2005). Students are responsible not only for their learning but the other group members as well. When one student is successful it helps the others to also be successful (Gokhale, 1995). According to Viggiano (n.d.), collaborative activities can be as diverse as peer tutoring/response/discussion (group members commenting on each other’s work) and group writing (members working together to create one written work). Another explanation of collaborative learning is student groups working together to investigate an important question or design a meaningful project. Examples include a group of students discussing a lecture or students from different schools working together over the Internet on a shared activity (Concept to Classroom, 2004).
Collaborative Research and Writing and Constructivism
The concept of collaborative research and writing is based on social constructivist theory (Dale, 1997). According to Hurley (1999), collaborative research and writing employ many constructivist strategies such as pursuit of student questions is highly valued, activities rely heavily on primary sources, students are viewed as thinkers with emerging theories about the world and students mainly work in groups. Constructivists also stress that students can demonstrate individual competence by collaborating with others to solve problems that they could not previously solve by themselves (Hurley, 1999). According to Erickson (1997), constructing something that has a purpose contributes an element of authenticity to a task. That provides the motivation, criteria and justification for students to critique and improve the construction.
Through collaborative research projects students focus on developing and improving skills such as locating information, creating new information, analyzing and organizing information, sharing information with others, and reflecting on a topic and its connection to that of others (Erickson, 1997). The collaborative writing of a written text changes a student’s ordinary, solitary written piece into a collective process that provides social and cognitive benefits (Trentin, 2009). This co-authoring (Dale, 1997) or co-writing process not only affords students a tremendous opportunity to practice reading and writing skills but to also encourage reflection, knowledge sharing and critical thinking (Trentin, 2009). An important emphasis of constructivist beliefs is the need to embed learning in real-world situations where learners function as a community helping to solve real-world problems (Jonassen et al., 1995). Trent (1997) believes that student writers need to learn how to collaborate effectively because the real world workplace is competitive and cooperative in nature.
In collaborative learning activities the teacher’s responsibility is to become a member, along with the students, of a community in search of knowledge (Barkley et al., 2005). According to Trent (1996), collaborative learning strategies are most effective when students and teachers work together and learn from each other. Teachers mediate learning, which means facilitating, modeling and coaching, through dialogue and collaboration (Tinzmann et al., 1990).
Collaborative Research and Writing in a Constructivist Environment
Collaborative research and writing activities occur in early childhood classrooms and continue through graduate school courses. The following are three examples of collaborative writing and/or research activities where students were responsible for constructing their own knowledge following constructivist principles.
In Camille Breheny’s kindergarten classroom students made valid choices about what they wanted to learn and assumed responsibility for constructing their own activities related to a topic of study (Barclay & Breheny, 1994). Children brainstormed numerous topics they wanted to know more about and the teacher gathered books on various genres and reading levels on those topics. After Ms. Breheny read several of the books during read aloud time and the children explored the books during independent-work periods and silent reading time, topics were narrowed to the three most popular choices. Students then signed up as members of one of the study groups and the collaborative activities began. With parent guidance at home, parent volunteers at school, and sixth-grade buddies, the kindergarten students learned and shared information about their topic. Each student had a “research contract” to show the ways they were constructing their knowledge and sharing it with others. The class had a “Share Fair” on the last day of school where each group showcased their report and the activities they created.
Julie Erickson (1997) conducted a classroom study of teachers Jeff Wilhelm and Paul Friedemann who planned and conducted several cross–curricular (reading and social studies) collaborative projects involving seventh-grade students in their large rural middle school in the Midwest. The projects used student design-based inquiry incorporating more constructivist teaching and learning practices in the classroom. The students designed hypermedia documents to teach their peers about topics integrating language arts and social studies. The students asked their own research questions, developed their own knowledge, and became each other’s teachers, critics, and audience. Since these design projects recurred many times throughout the year, students became familiar with and easily followed the overall research and design process – ask, find, develop, analyze, organize, design, reflect, refine.
The development of Internet-based telecommunications technologies such as e-mail, video-conferencing, and the World Wide Web has significantly increased opportunities for geographically distant students and educators to learn and teach collaboratively (Hurley, 1999). The University of California at Santa Barbara and Westminster College in Utah designed The Comparative Environmental Change Seminar in the spring of 1997 to utilize Internet communication tools to implement collaborative inquiry and analysis among teams of geography or environmental majors from their schools. There were three teams of three to four students at each school which were given the task of collaboratively researching human-generated environmental change issues within an assigned regional mountain ecosystem. Each team then compared their finding with those of a similar team of distant students. Although geographically distant, the teams were researching issues according to elevation so they could conduct research on related topics and compare their findings. By engaging students in the process of analyzing primary data and then actively collaborating with their local team members and remote team, the instructors provide the students an opportunity to construct a fuller understanding of the nature and complexity of environmental change.
Criticisms of Collaborative Research and Writing
One common criticism of collaborative writing is that the groups having difficulty managing and organizing themselves (Viggiano, n.d.). There are several ways to address this. According to Hamm (2002), one of the first steps in implementing collaborative activities is for the teacher to instruct students in how to work together. Students should also have input in creating rules for group work. Using class time to discuss the problems that frequently occur in group work can help students construct meaningful strategies for accomplishing their learning goals and dealing with a challenging member (Viggiano, n.d.). “Group roles and individual responsibilities also must be defined and arranged clearly so that each group member’s contribution is unique and essential” (Hamm, 2002). Successful groups organize themselves so that each member feels accountable for a fair portion of the work.
Another criticism of collaboration is that it penalizes the above-average student. According to Viggiano (n.d.), heterogeneous groups help the below average student more than it harms the high-ability student. It’s important that the type of project is designed for collaborative work and “best accomplished by a group rather than an individual” (Viggiano, n.d.). Students actually benefit a great deal from formulating and explaining their ideas to their peers (Barkley et al., 2005). According to Dale (1997), young co-authors learn the most if they write with others who have different skill levels since each student’s contribution to the writing product is from his or her own writing skill level. Co-authors are encouraged to express and reflect on new ideas that they might not have encountered working as individuals (Dale, 1997).
Others criticize collaborative writing and group projects as being difficult to grade. Viggiano (n.d.) suggests that the class discuss the assessment of the assignment and develop a rubric together. Collaborative activities are best assessed collaboratively and each collaborative activity should include a reflective component (Paloff & Pratt, 2005). By participating in collaborative assessment, students come to understand the basic premise of a learning community because they are involved in something more than just an assignment. Students should reflect on their experience of group work (Viggiano, n.d.), their participation in the activity and their contributions to the group (Paloff & Pratt, 2005).
Technology Supports Collaborative Research and Writing
Technology has made available many new opportunities for collaborative learning (Concept to Classroom, 2004). Using the internet, students can correspond with global e-mail pen pals and e-mail can also be used to assist with collaboration activities with students in other local or global classrooms. The Global School House Network (http://www.globalschoolnet.org) enables teachers to locate partners for collaborative projects, search ongoing collaborative projects or add their own project (Jonassen, 2008). WebQuests are another type of technology-based collaborative projects that include research and writing activities. According to Jonassen (2008), a well-designed WebQuest is an open-ended and student-directed research project. Participating in a well-designed teacher-created WebQuest is a great learning activity but having students collaboratively create WebQuests has even more value (Jonassen, 2008). The internet also enables students to communicate with experts in different subject areas or utilize “ask the experts” web sites. Students can even collaborate on constructing a web site to share their new knowledge (Concept to Classroom, 2004).
According to Good (2007), the flexibility and usefulness of online, web-based collaborative tools provide a simple way for groups to create text exercises, research reports and other writing assignments in a collaborative manner. Wikis offer “a variety of unique and powerful information-sharing and collaboration features that offer key advantages, such as allowing learners to be actively involved in their own knowledge construction as well as improving co-writing processes and facilitating their monitoring" (Trentin, 2009). Google Docs (formerly known as Writely) is an example of a full-web based collaborative writing tool (Good, 2007).
Barclay, K.H., & Breheny, C. (1994, September). Letting children take over more of their own learning: Collaborative research in the kindergarten classroom. Young Children 49(6) 33-39.
Barkley, E.F., Cross, K. P. & Major, C.H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques: a handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Concept to Classroom. (2004). How can technology be used with cooperative and collaborative learning? Retrieved March 26, 2009, from thirteen ed online website: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/coopcollab/explor_sub5.html
Dale, H. (1997). Co-Authoring in the classroom: Creating an environment for effective collaboration. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Erickson, J.(1997, Spring). Building a community of designers: Restructuring learning through student hypermedia design. Journal of Research in Rural Education 13(1) 5-27. Retrieved March 6, 2009 from ERIC database.
Gokhale, A. (1995, Fall). Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of Technology Education, 7(1). Retrieved on March 6, 2009 from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/v7n1/gokhale.jte-v7n1.html
Good, R. (2007, March 1). Collaborative writing tools and technology: A mini-guide. Retrieved March 18, 2009 from http://www.kolabora.com/news/2007/03/01/collaborative_writing_tools_and_technology.htm
Hamm, M. & Adams, D. (2002, Spring). Collaborative inquiry: Working toward shared goals. Kappa Delta Pi Record. Retrieved on March 18, 2009 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4009/is_200204/ai_n9054348
Hurley, J.M., Proctor, J. D., & Ford, R. E. (1999, May–June) Collaborative inquiry at a distance: Using the internet in geography education. Journal of Geography 98(3) 128-40. Retrieved March 6 from ERIC database.
Jonassen, D., Davidson, M.,Collins M., Campbell, J. & Haag, B. B. (1995, January 1). Constructivism and Computer-Mediated Communication in Distance Education. American Journal of Distance Education, 9(2), 7-26. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ512278) Retrieved on March 6, 2009, from ERIC database.
Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R., & Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful Learning with Technology. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K. (2005) Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Tinzmann, M.B., Jones, B.F., Fennimore, T.F., Bakker, J., Fine, C. and Pierce, J. (1990). What is the collaborative classroom? Retrieved on March 18, 2009 from http://www.arp.sprnet.org/admin/supt/collab2.htm
Trent, M. (1996, March 1). Beyond the Comfort Zone: Collaborative Learning and the National Writing Project of Louisiana. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED398581) Retrieved on March 14, 2009, from ERIC database.
Trentin, G. (2009, February). Using a wiki to evaluate individual contribution to a collaborative learning project. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 25(1) 43-55. Retrieved on March 9, 2009 from ERIC database.
Viggiano, E. (n.d.) Teaching Tip Sheet: Collaborative Writing. Retrieved on March 14, 2009 from http://wac.gmu.edu/supporting/tip_sheet_collaboration.pdf
1.Which of the following accurately describes collaborative learning?
a. Students work individually to achieve learning goals
b. Students work in groups or pairs to achieve learning goals
c. Students work with the teacher to accomplish learning goals
d. All of the answers demonstrate some form of collaborative learning
2.An important emphasis of constructivist beliefs is the need to embed learning in real-world situations where learners function as a community helping to solve real-world problems.
3.Which of the following are common criticisms of collaborative learning?
a. Difficulty in managing groups
b. Penalizing above average students
c. Projects difficult to grade
d. All of the above
e. Both a & b
4.What is the teacher’s responsibility in collaborative learning?
a. Dictate to the students what needs to be done
b. Be a mentor to the different groups
c. Become a member of a community in search of knowledge
d. Research another topic on their own to present to the class
5. How could you use collaborative research and writing in your classroom? Describe how it could improve the learning of your class.
6. How might advances in technology improve collaborative learning in your school or classroom? What uses of technology do you use to facilitate collaborative learning right now?
0-1 Unsatisfactory - Quiz not submitted; or incomplete or inappropriate completion. Two or more incorrect answers on objective items.
2 Developing - 1 incorrect answer on objective item; or 1 or more essay question does not include clear description of incorporating collaborative learning or include one specific example to support the response.
3 Proficient - All objective items correct. Both essay questions contain a clear description of incorporating collaborative learning by including at least one specific example to support the response.
4 Advanced - All items in #3 included. At least one additional example /anecdote or description of collaborative learning is included.