Emerging Instructional Technology/Collaborative Writing

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Introduction and Background[edit]

The growth of Web 2.0 tools has opened new avenues for collaborative applications in education and business. There are many resources available to help understand the impact that these Web 2.0 tools have. See for example this You Tube video entitled The Machine is Us/ing Us. Recently, there has been an explosion in Web 2.0 applications that can be used for collaboration as noted by Descy (2007). See for example, the Office 2.0 Database which has over 500 applications that have been contributed since it was created in 2006. Web 2.0 tools are internet based applications that by nature are designed to foster collaboration among its users. While there are advantages and disadvantages in using these tools, Descy comments that “collaboration and universal Web access to your work are two pluses,”(2007, p. 3).

Much has been written about the 21st century skills required of students today. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has outlined key skills in the area of communication and collaboration. In a press conference in early November, three key K-12 educational associations, issued a new study with recommendations entitled Maximizing the Impact: The Pivotal Role of Technology in a 21st Century Education System, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which urged renewed emphasis on technology in education. Collaborative writing using Web 2.0 tools may be a way to combine together the digital native's technology savvy with essential skills needed for their future success.

This chapter will explore the use of collaborative writing and publishing facilitated by wikis and Google docs as an emerging instructional technology. The selection of a wiki and Google docs was influenced in part by their ease of use but also in part by the availability of published case studies and research regarding their impact in education and training literature.


There is no definitive definition of collaborative writing. To [1] collaborate is to have the action of working with someone to produce or to create something. To [2] write is the composing of text for publication. (Oxford American Dict. 2007) Therefore, collaborative writing is the action of working with someone to produce text that will be created for publication.

Collaboration: Collaboration among a group requires them to work together to create, build, and refine an idea. (Driscoll, 2007)

Collaborative methods: Collaborative methods describe the process or way in which a group works together. There are several models of collaboration found in the education literature. See for examples: Conrad & Donaldson, 2004 and Palloff & Pratt, 2005)

Community of Practice(COP): Goodwin-Jones defines a community of practices as "a way of achieving collective applied learning with the expectation that over time expertise in a given subject area is developed and solutions to common issues and shared problems are found, posted and discussed." (2003, p. 15).

Google Docs is a product of Google to create and share work online. You can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online from scratch or upload many different file formats to work with others on a project. (Google.com, 2007)

pbwiki's are a way for groups to access their work from anywhere, have a secure collaboration place to work, and quickly engage students or team members in the project. (pbwiki.com, 2007)

Web 2.0 Tools: There are many tools that comprise Web 2.0 tools. There are several characteristics that distinguish Web 2.0 tools: "The underlying technology of the new tools is XML ("extensible markup language") which separates content from formatting, encourages use of meta-data, and enables machine processing of Internet documents." (Goodwin-Jones, 2003, p.12)

Wikis: Davis describes the evolution of wikis, dating them back to the mid-1990s when they were used by computer software engineers. A wiki website gives the users the ability to edit, add content, track who made changes, and allow revisions to previous entries. (Davis, 2007) Goodwin-Jones describes wikis this way -- "wikis are intensely collaborative. They feature a loosely structured set of pages, linked in multiple ways to each other and to Internet resources and an open-editing system in which anyone can edit any page." (2003 p. 15)


There are a number of considerations that educators must weigh with respect to the use of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Descy (2007) noted that there are a number of privacy issues that need to be examined in using some of these applications. This is especially important at the K-12 level where educators need to take additional steps to protect their underage students from sharing information that could lead to their identities being discovered. Sites that allow educators to restrict access to the group and having students use their initials instead of their full name are minimal steps that can be taken to address this issue.

Another issue that is addressed by Descy is the importance of selecting a vendor that has established some viability and credibility in the market place. Some applications available are created by unknown vendors and both educators and industry professionals need to consider what happens when that site is no longer available for use – either because the site now charges users or the site no longer exists. Those interested in utilizing Web 2.0 tools should also work closely with their information technology specialists as some applications require pop-up blockers or other filters to be turned off for the application to function properly. While the literature has not highlighted cases of viruses or other malicious software infiltrating the user's local computer, these are also factors that should be discussed with information technology specialists in the organization.

Collaborative writing in an online environment brings with it a number of important ethical issues for consideration. First and foremost is the importance of modeling for students sound behaviors in attributing sources, proper mechanisms for quoting materials and practices of citing materials with a style manual.

Instructional Use[edit]

Online collaboration and communication tools offer educators another means of fostering collaboration among student groups. This section will highlight some of the ways in which K-12, higher education, and corporate environments are using wikis and Google docs in collaborative writing and publishing.

A review of the published literature in education and instructional technology journals finds many examples of how educators are using wikis and blogs as writing tools. Compiling this list from research illustrates a growing number of ways that educators utilize them. For example, Parker and Chao’s review of the use of wikis in education identified “a variety of applications, primarily in writing assignments, group projects, and online/distance education, although innovative uses in other areas can be found as well”. (2007, p. 60) In their discussion of wikis, Parker and Chao note that “wikis allow learners to participate in collaboratively building resources.” (2007. p. 59) This collaboration process requires student reflection which Parker and Chao suggest is at the heart of the constructivist paradigm.

Borja highlights several case studies using wikis in K-12 education. She notes that wikis are viewed, at the schools profiled in the article, as aids to collaborative learning. The choice to use a wiki is aided by the fact that the software is web-based and accessible for teachers to use. Many sites that offer wikis provide them at no cost for educators to use. (See for example pbwiki). Students do not need much in the way of orientation to use a wiki – “just a few clicks of a computer mouse.” (Borja, 2006) While the ease of use and the collaborative learning are strong reasons for using a wiki, educators need to be aware that there are some concerns. Educators are encouraged to use secure wiki sites that are password protected and take steps to protect student privacy including using initials rather than names if the wiki will be published to the web. Once published future class assignments may need to be changed noted one high school technology instructor. (Borja, 2006) Other concerns include adjusting grading rubrics to reflect the true nature of collaborative writing assignments. The ability to see the editing history of the wiki is a great tool for educators to evaluate how their students are engaged in collaboration. (Driscoll, 2007). Davis (2007) provides a series of educator wiki tips including making use of features that alerts the manager when edits have been made to a wiki page, utilizing limited group access, cautioning students to be digital professionals and protecting student privacy when publishing material to the web. For other examples of wiki use in education, see work by Achterman, 2006, Engstrom & Jewett, 2005; Mader, 2006; and Warlick, 2007.

While wikis have been the primary focus of much of the research there are a few examples of how educators are using Google docs in their classrooms for collaborative writing. Wojcicki’s work for the Google Teacher Academy in the summer of 2007 highlights a wide variety of disciplines from Palo Alto High School, CA using Google docs. The author identifies 4 key advantages for using Google docs in the classroom: “ 1. Makes peer collaborating and editing exciting and fun. 2. Saves automatically – no more complaints about I lost my work. 3. Easy access from any internet computer – eliminates my computer crashed because it is always online, and 4. Teacher can monitor student work easily and offer comments and suggestions at any point in the assignment.” (Wojcicki, 2007) Furthermore several authors comment on the impact that an authentic audience and online publication has on student writing. See Achtermank 2006, Driscoll, 2007; Lackie, 2007; Mader, 2006; and Parker & Chao, 2007 for examples. Higher education is also embracing these Web 2.0 collaboration tools, although not at the same pace as K-12 education. (Lackie, 2007). Oliver describes the use of Web 2.0 tools in a graduate instructional technology class on technology integration. He notes that while there are important considerations in using some of the tools, “these considerations are manageable and offset by the powerful student-centered activities fostered by free Web 2.0 tools.” (2007, p. 61) One of the more unique applications for collaboration is described in Boulos, Maramba, and Wheeler’s 2006 work in medical education in the United Kingdom. The authors explore ways in which Web 2.0 tools can be used to enhance clinical educational environments through wikis, blogs and podcasts. Like most of the writers focusing on higher education applications, more research is called for to highlight the true impact on student learning and achievement.

Business and industry professionals are also taking note to these collaborative tools. While not new to the corporate environment, this easily accessible, low-cost collaboration tools offer increased flexibility for work teams to communicate with one another. See for example work by Dye, 2007; and Hoover, 2007.

Educators and trainers alike looking for ways to foster greater collaboration among teams should give serious consideration to the impact this new generation of Web 2.0 tools affords. As the growing body of research suggestions, the digital natives are responding to these new communities of learning and collaboration online.

Conclusions and Recommendations[edit]

Web 2.0 tools offer new ways for educators to foster collaboration among groups and enhance collaborative writing activities. Based on our group experience with Google docs as a collaborative writing tool, there are several interesting research questions that are raised. How does the use of an online collaborative writing tool enhance a group's interaction and collaboration? How do students perceive the use of these online collaboration tools as compared to more traditional methods of collaboration? How does the use of these online writing tools change the writing process in a group? Will educators add online collaboration tools to their instructional strategies as a means of integrating technology into the classroom? Answers to these and other questions are topics for further research and publication.

From a high school teacher’s perspective, collaborative writing and publishing has several challenges to implementation, but the positive outcomes outweigh those challenges. For example, assessing students’ work when a group of students have collaborated on a piece of writing, what is a teacher to do? Teachers will need to clearly identify their expectations from the beginning of the assignment to allow all members of the group to show case their writing talents. A strong positive for using collaborate writing would be the confidence that students accrue from producing a solid piece of writing with their peers. Many students that are shy in the classroom find using a Google Doc levels their playing field between the group members. There are many opportunities for teachers and students to use wiki’s and Google Docs in the classroom to produce quality writing. See the list of case study examples for several suggestions of places for a high school teacher to start.

In higher education, online collaborative writing provides another means for groups of students to work together without the difficulties of scheduling face to face meetings. In fact there are several examples from higher education applications that use other communication means, such as Skype, Mybeam.com, and YackPack. (Lackie, 2007) It would appear that these online tools would be complements to many of the online distance learning systems already in use. However, little research exists in this area.

From a corporate perspective, collaborative writing and publishing online has several advantages over the traditional meeting method. Co-workers can work from any where using a Google Doc and share what they have created with each other. Co-workers can help edit and add to the project at any time. Productivity of workers should increase using an online collaborative method since the workers would not have to schedule times to meet across town or across a building. There are many collaborative online methods for the corporate world. See the list of case study examples for suggestions on several of these methods.

Online collaboration will continue to grow in popularity as more people discover the advantages to using online methods to collaborate on projects with their fellow classmates or co-workers. Many different companies have been developing products for collaborative publishing and this is bound to increase. A few leaders have emerged in the collaboration method race. Google docs and pbwikis are just two that are on the top for teachers and corporate trainers. Google Doc works well for a group of people that need to communicate their ideas and create a uniform project. pbwikis work well for teachers to set-up a system for students to post their work and for the class to work together. As these emerging instructional technologies grow in usage, additional research will be needed to demonstrate their impact on learning and achievement.

Examples/Case Studies[edit]

Collaborative Writing and Publishing in Education The following references will help you find out more about collaborative writing and publishing in education.

1. James Farmer uses his weblog to discuss personal and collaborative publishing online and the implications for designing online communication and collaboration.

Mr. Farmer answers three basic questions:

a. What is personal and collaborative publishing?

b. How does it all stick together?

c. How does this impact us?

To learn more go to http://radio.weblogs.com/0120501/2004/07/15.html

2. If you are interested in joining a large education community on the Internet go to http://edublogs.org/

You will be able to do the following activities:

• Sign up for a free education blog in seconds

• Use it to transform your teaching or talk to other teachers

• Powered by WordPress, the best blogging tool on the web

• Safe, secure, supported and free of any advertising

• Embed video, create podcasts and customize your space

3. To find collaborative writing projects go to http://www.nelliemuller.com/Collaborative_Projects.htm The link provides additional links to resources for teachers and students.

An example: student guides to the process of collaborative writing at http://projects.edtech.sandi.net/staffdev/tpss99/processguides/index.htm

4. A list of 44 benefits of collaborative learning can be found at http://www.gdrc.org/kmgmt/c-learn/44.html

5. A good description and tips for collaborative writing and peer reviewing assignments can be found at http://www.uni-oldenburg.de/zef/cde/tips.htm

6. “The collaborative aspect of Weblogs is what has brought many teachers into the fold.” “Blogging and RSS — The "What's It?" and "How To" of Powerful New Web Tools for Educators by Will Richardson, Supervisor of Instructional Technology, Hunterdon Central Regional High School” Find out more at http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools/jan04/richardson.shtml

7. “Increase student engagement using a safe online wiki. Stop waiting for IT to make an easy-to-update web space! Create a no-hassle way to showcase my students' work online. No IT required. Increase student engagement using pre-made templates, free videos, and lots of help” at http://pbwiki.com/education.wiki

8. Want to watch a video about wikis? Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY

9. Lesson ideas and tips for using Docs & Spreadsheets in English and Journalism classes by Esther Wojcicki, Teacher at http://www.google.com/educators/6_12.html you will need to scroll down and to the right to read Docs & Spreadsheets in the Classroom.

10. Using Google Docs & Spreadsheets for Virtual Collaboration video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT2y5IhlU4U

Collaborative Writing and Publishing in a Corporate Setting

The following references will help you find out more about collaborative writing and publishing in a corporate setting.

1. The XCEO team has developed a unique opportunity for independent publishers to cooperate with each other by instituting a venture they refer to as Collaborative Publishing. To find out more go to http://www.xceo.net/pc/overview.php

2. John Dowdell of Macromedia discusses new collaborative publishing techniques at http://www.adobe.com/devnet/jd_forum/jd019.html

3. Collaborative blogs by Cynapse can help “teams to create, share, and discuss on knowledge and information and eventually increase speed and productivity of the team’s activity. Cynapse delivers a range of refined and broad-based Collaborative Blog solutions powered by our products and frameworks and delivered in a range of models”. Find out more at http://www.cynapse.com/solutions/enterprise_web_publishing/collaborative_blogs.aspx

4. “In the last few years, traditional collaboration—in a meeting room, a conference call, even a convention center—has been superseded by collaborations on an astronomical scale.” To find out more about wikinomics go to http://www.wikinomics.com/

5. The link http://www.actapress.com/PaperInfo.aspx?paperId=20655 takes you to an article that “discusses a multilevel framework for corporate collaborative learning. This framework is based on the action-perception-reflection-intention (APRI) model. The model defines collaborative learning process guided by the enterprise learning strategy and is used for the development of the software tools of the corporate WBT.”

6. “An interesting possibility QuarkDDS™ allows is the creation of personalized printed materials which can be made available to your organization with a specific corporate identity, and each employee can modify pre-defined areas while maintaining the corporate image.” Find out more at http://www.codesco.com/Products_and_Services/QuarkDDSTM/How_can_I_use_it_/Collaborative_Publishing/collaborative_publishing.html

7. “Tired of waiting for your IT department? Too many emails? Can't keep track of the latest documents and versions? If you needed a collaboration solution yesterday, start using PBwiki today. See why PBwiki is the world's largest host of business wikis” at http://pbwiki.com/business.wiki

8. “Most people know wiki webs only as public places used in a fashion similar to message boards. However, Wiki Webs can be used in an entirely different fashion to organize all your business needs. At EPSSoftware, we are using an internal wiki web (hosted by Steven Black) as our most important management and organization tool. Here's how...” at http://fox.wikis.com/wc.dll?Wiki~EPSInternalWikiCaseStudy+

9. “Google has revolutionized the working methodologies in offices.” Using Google Docs for Transcriptions at http://transcription.e24tech.com/2007/01/26/transcription-work-flow-using-google-docs/

10. Wikis, blogs and podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education to find out more go to http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6920/6/41

11. Wiziq Virtual Classroom Technology http://www.wiziq.com http://wiziq.typepad.com/ offers the following features: Works in Flash format and needs no downloads, 2-way live audio/video delivery, Whiteboard with Math tools, Synchronous Content sharing such as PowerPoint (retains animations and transitions), PDF, Flash, MS Word, MS Excel files and videos, Records all sessions to be played back in Flash format (needs no downloads), Share PowerPoint presentations asynchronously even with narrated audio in slides

Collaborative Writing and Publishing in Academia

Historically, the most common social units of collaboration in research have been the laboratory, research group, or department. Beyond that, collaborations depend less on shared institutional and social interests, and more on personal research connections: the geographically distant collaborator is chosen despite the distance because the research connection is very close.

Such distant yet close collaborations depended - and still depend - on people being able to come together at academic conferences, hear each other speak academically, meet socially at events surrounding the conference, and thus gradually build up the trust and interest needed to consider spending time and funds on developing shared projects and a working relationship.

In academia, it matters greatly who has developed what ideas, methods or information, when and where and how. Academic researchers are expected to acknowledge their intellectual sources, and also to generate new ideas, understandings and knowledge - and in return they can expect to be acknowledged.

In the academic context, a great deal of trust is needed, because the intellectual responsibilities and contributions cannot easily be dictated and known in advance and written down in a contract. In free-flowing, creative research, unpredictability is needed in the research process, but predictability, integrity, and reliability are needed in the human relationships between researchers, in order for collaborations to succeed and last.

These observations explain, to some extent, why the members of online communities of researchers tend to hold back their latest thoughts and insights on matters directly related to their own research. To reveal such information in public is a decision not taken lightly. Collaboration is possible and needed, but tends to operate out of public sight until all parties are agreed to a release of information. That is why the collaborative tools used by researchers allow for very controlled access to documents, in contrast to the Wiki model. It is also why there is a great need for online social networks for researchers, to allow them to meet other researchers across great distances, and then develop trust through public and private exchanges mediated through the various social networking platforms that are now available (Wikis included!). (References needed).

While most online networks have been designed to facilitate discussions of research subjects of mutual interest, among the network members, there is a form of social network that brings together (in principle) the entire range of people involved the process of doing, writing, editing, translating, and publishing research: The Research Cooperative, and this network has the unusual emphasis on letting people ate all levels of experience participate on equal terms, so that researchers, editors and translators can give each other voluntary mutual assistance, as well as in professional, or commercial ways. Among many researchers, voluntary mutual assistance is seen as a professional obligation to help develop their own discipline.

Much more can be said on all of these matters, but I hope this general introduction suggests some directions that future contributors to this page can consider and expand upon.


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