Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Online Collaborative Writing for ESL Learners Using Blogs and Feedback Checklists

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Online Collaborative Writing for ESL Learners Using Blogs and Feedback Checklists

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper reports on the experience of seven Saudi female ESL students who worked collaboratively in an interactive online writing environment over a period of four weeks. It chronicles their experiences with online writing tasks, documents their responses to online feedback, and examines their attempts to cope with different settings and audiences. It was found that interactive features of weblogs helped establish a valid peer review culture as an integral part of collaborative writing. The experience also helped develop critical thinking and ability to identify target audience. In general, students' attitudes were positive and participants exhibited a desire to incorporate similar tasks in upcoming ESL writing classes. It is therefore recommended that educational authorities and teachers should solicit online resources more often.

Keywords: weblogs, collaborative learning, ESL writing

1. Introduction

Technological advances in the field of education have experienced an unprecedented momentum in the last few years thanks in no small part to easy access to the Internet and commercially available educational software. There are no signs this trend is going to phase out anytime soon. If anything, it is more likely to increase in popularity as an increasing number of people in developing countries have access to affordable technology in all walks of life. There are several reasons for the prevalence of online educational schemes, an obvious of which is the expanding IT infrastructure in many emerging market countries where the Internet was until recently considered a luxury rather than a necessity. Internet access means that online interaction at its various shapes and guises is now a common feature of average students' daily lives in these less developed countries, and this in turn translates into the abundance of unorthodox and previously unknown sources of knowledge which, unlike traditional classes, are less bounded by time or location.

My focus in this project is on online blogging which has become a common feature of the Internet. Despite its popularity, many experts believe that blogging has not been fully utilized as a learning venue especially in countries like Saudi Arabia where using the internet is traditionally associated with entertainment and social activities rather than with business or education. In this project, the progress and attitudes of seven university-level female EFL students working to improve their EFL writing via weblogs were observed. The ability to work collaboratively, to write for an audience other than teachers, to critically judge the feedback received, to provide feedback, and ultimately to review own writing from a different perspective are areas where students' development was investigated.

Data collected while students were posting their blogs to be read and commented on by their colleagues. There were interviews designed primarily to investigate students' attitudes towards blogs as means of improving their EFL writing, addressing different readership, receiving corrective feedback from a previously unconventional source, and providing insights to others. There was also a reflective element toward the end of the experiment to give participants the chance to look back at their experience and to evaluate its impact on their collaborative learning skills, critical thinking and ability to address different audiences. Data was collected from participants using the interviews, the texts they have written and the checklist forms they provided to others.

2. Literature Review

2.1 English Writing in ESL Contexts

L2 writing in its own right is particularly challenging even for the more advanced learner. (Hinkel, 2004; and Leki & Carson, 1997) When it comes to the Saudi context, however, a multitude of factors further complicate this task including outdated teaching methodologies and materials in public school, (Whitfield & Pollard, 1998) writing and reading ethos among learners which are lagging behind that of most developed nations, (McKay, 1992) the status of English in the society, (Gray, 2000; and McKay 1992) and the lack of exposure to authentic English texts, (Syed, 2003) all contribute to the less than satisfactory levels of ESL writing of Saudi students. …

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