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Computer Assisted Language Learning

ISSN: 0958-8221 (Print) 1744-3210 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ncal20

Exploring collaboratively written L2 texts among


first-year learners of German in Google Docs

Zsuzsanna Abrams

To cite this article: Zsuzsanna Abrams (2016): Exploring collaboratively written L2 texts among
first-year learners of German in Google Docs, Computer Assisted Language Learning, DOI:
10.1080/09588221.2016.1270968

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2016.1270968

Published online: 27 Dec 2016.

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Download by: [University of Saskatchewan Library] Date: 28 December 2016, At: 19:18
COMPUTER ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING, 2016
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2016.1270968

Exploring collaboratively written L2 texts among first-year


learners of German in Google Docs
Zsuzsanna Abrams
Department of Languages and Applied Linguistics, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

ABSTRACT KEYWORDS
Grounded in research on collaborative writing and computer-mediated Collaborative L2 writing;
writing the present study examines the computer-mediated collaborative computer-mediated writing;
writing process among first-year learners of German as a second language computer-supported
(L2) at a US university. The data come from 28 first-year learners of collaborative writing; CSCW
German at a US university, who wrote hypothesized endings to a German
feature-film in small groups in Google Docs. The results suggest an
expansion of previous models of collaborative writing – based on
participatory patterns along the axes of equality and mutuality – to reflect
the nature of computer-supported collaboration. The results also confirm
previous findings that during computer-supported collaborative writing,
learners tend to prioritize meaning over form, however, in this project,
participants were able to attend to both, in spite of their level of
proficiency. Implications for further research and L2 pedagogy are
explored after the discussion of the data.

1. Introduction
Research on second language (L2) writing has consistently confirmed that collaborative writing
can support the exchange and solidification of new language through a recursive planning and
editing process (Storch, 2011), drawing on long-recognized benefits of learner-to-learner interac-
tion (Gass & Varonis, 1994). As Williams (2012) notes, writing as meaningful, productive
language use is capable of unleashing psycholinguistic processes needed for L2 learning; the
extra time accorded to written texts may enable learners to tap into varied sources of knowledge
– such as lexical or grammatical information – they possess (2012), and into their peers’ capabil-
ities in collaborative writing (Swain & Lapkin, 2001). Interest in analyzing collaborative writing
has recently increased in the area of computer-mediated L2 learning (Arnold et al., 2012;
Grosbois, 2016; Strobl, 2015).
Yet, analyzing how learner-to-learner interaction unfolds in collaborative writing remains a chal-
lenging endeavor. Many studies examine language-related episodes surrounding writing, such as
synchronous or asynchronous chat before or during writing (cf. Anton & DiCamilla, 2009; Strobl,
2015), and these studies provide invaluable insights into the L2 writing and learning process. How-
ever, few studies investigate the collaboratively written text itself. Consequently, analytic frameworks
often emphasize synchronous aspects of the collaborative process (e.g. Meier, Spada, & Rummel,
2007). This study, thus, aims to contribute to ongoing research in three ways. First, it examines the
possibility of using Storch (2002) model of collaborative writing, which complements revision-
authorship-based analyses (e.g. Arnold et al., 2012). Second, it explores the relationship between

CONTACT Zsuzsanna Abrams zabrams1@ucsc.edu


© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
2 Z. ABRAMS

collaborative patterns and the quality of the resulting written text. Finally, it offers a critical review of
the possibilities and limitations of Google Docs for analyzing computer-supported collaborative
writing (CSCW). Following a review of relevant research on collaborative L2 writing, the article
describes the methodology used in this study and its results. The conclusion offers several pedagogi-
cal and research implications for using CSCW in L2 learning.

2. Review of the literature


2.1. Collaborative L2 writing
Producing meaningful output and learner-to-learner interaction have long been recognized as essen-
tial for L2 development (Gass & Varonis, 1994). While studies typically focused on spoken interac-
tion, these claims are currently being re-examined in L2 writing research since ‘writing may in fact
provide greater opportunities for testing hypotheses, receiving and noticing feedback, and focusing
on accuracy’ (Storch, 2011, p. 276). For example, Weissberg (2000) found that adult L2 learners
were more willing to experiment with new syntactic forms in writing than in speaking because they
have more time to notice errors, and corrective feedback is both more feasible and easier to process
(Harklau, 2002; Storch, 2011; Williams, 2012). In particular, collaborative writing – which entails
both the production of meaningful output and learner-to-learner interaction – may provide oppor-
tunities for shared knowledge generation (Wigglesworth & Storch, 2012) by supporting the
exchange and solidification of new information through a collaborative planning and editing process
(Kormos, 2014; Storch, 2011).
A number of studies have examined language improvements made as a result of collaborative
writing or language-related episodes during pre-task planning or feedback sessions (cf. Anton &
DiCamilla, 2009; Elola & Oskoz, 2010a), but stop short of examining the actual collaboratively writ-
ten text that learners produce. This is an important issue to research because many real-world writ-
ing tasks require co-authored texts (Elola & Oskoz, 2010b), and collaborative writing in the L2 can
facilitate language development, as learners negotiate meaning throughout the composition process,
teach each other new vocabulary, expand each other’s ideas and promote grammatical accuracy
through collective scaffolding (Storch, 2011; Swain & Lapkin, 2001). Collaborative L2 writing can
also help learners retain lexical information better (Liu & Lan, 2016; Watanabe & Swain, 2007).
Additionally, the quality of collaboration matters; Watanabe and Swain noted that active and more
effective collaboration is required for improvements in L2 performance.
Several factors may affect the quality of collaboration, including L2 proficiency, task type and
learner orientation. Low-proficiency learners, for example, may not be able to resolve language
problems effectively or accurately (de la Colina & Garcıa Mayo, 2007) and tend to focus on lexi-
cal concerns, while higher proficiency learners are more likely to correct grammatical mistakes
(Storch, 2011). The purpose of the task may impact performance as well: meaning-focused tasks
tend to foster more lexical development than grammatical accuracy (Storch & Wigglesworth,
2007). Importantly, there is also considerable variation in how individuals approach tasks. The
quality and quantity of texts they produce, as Storch (2002) argues, depends in large part on the
collaborative relationships learners develop, specifically, the levels of equality and mutuality they
establish (these concepts are discussed in Section 2.3). Others have also found that the amount
of engagement learners have with the task and with each other plays an important role in the
writing process (Watanabe & Swain, 2007). Additionally, Leblay (2009 cited in Grosbois, 2016)
observed that expert writers tended to revise their work repeatedly during the writing process
recursively, while novice writers were more likely to produce the text linearly, with little or no
modifications to their text. Macaro (2014) urges further investigations into the process that
learners engage in during writing, both what they write and how writing is realized. CSCW is
ideally situated to help facilitate L2 development and reveal insights into the underlying pro-
cesses of L2 writing as well.
COMPUTER ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING 3

2.2. The benefits of CSCW


Computer-mediated environments provide opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous col-
laboration, formal and informal writing tasks, and dyadic or many-to-many communication,
completely reshaping the boundaries of learner output and our understanding of collaborative writ-
ing (Blake, 2008). They also highlight the social nature of writing, moving it along the continuum of
a primarily individual cognitive activity to a socially contextualized one, in which writers produce
a shared text through interaction with others (Arnold et al., 2012; Elola & Oskoz, 2010a, 2010b;
Grosbois, 2016; Kessler, 2009; Strobl, 2014, 2015). Consequently, learners tend to prioritize meaning
(Elola & Oskoz, 2010b) over the local features of language like grammar and individual lexical items
(Kessler, 2009; Kessler & Bikowski, 2010). Additionally, while peer-to-peer interaction in CSCW
seems to foster careful attention to ideational content (Kessler, Bikowski, & Boggs, 2012), it also
yields language of a quality that is beyond what individual learners can produce on their own.
These findings were supported by Strobl’s (2014) study, in which she examined texts produced by
advanced learners of German at a Belgian university (native speakers of Dutch). Her participants
produced significantly better quality syntheses as a result of collaborative work than when they
wrote individually. Strobl interpreted the results as reflecting the serious in-depth discussions learn-
ers had conducted prior to the composition stage. Furthermore, she noted that her participants
tended to attend to higher-order concerns in their revisions and collaboration (e.g. content selection
and organization). Similarly, Arnold et al. (2012) discovered that their participants (intermediate
learners of German) emphasized meaning in their revisions of Wikis, but authorship was an impor-
tant factor in revision behavior. Specifically, participants readily made language-related edits in their
peers’ contributions but tended to edit the content only in their own writing. The authors also noted
that one class that had more autonomy during the writing task produced more collaborative work
than learners in more structured classes, echoing Kessler’s (2009) findings. By negotiating writing
with others, learners revisited the text repeatedly, and produced a text with ‘common coherent con-
tent’ (Grosbois, 2016).
In contrast, Kost (2011) found that when intermediate-level learners (fourth and sixth semesters)
were asked to write an alternate ending for a radio play using Wikis, learners made more form-based
revisions than meaning-based ones. The dyads differed greatly in their revision behavior – some
producing as many as six times the number of revisions as other dyads – which behavior the author
attributes to some learners’ interpreting the writing process as a more recursive endeavor, while
others approached it in a more linear fashion. There seemed to be no connection between the level
of language learner and revision behavior in her study, and writing expertise was not measured.
While the collaboratively written text is a unifying feature of these studies, they each interpreted col-
laboration differently; therefore, what ‘collaborative’ means merits clarification.

2.3. Analyzing collaboration in L2 writing


Collaboration, fundamentally, is ‘the joint production of a text by two or more writers’ (Storch, 2011,
p. 275). Different studies, however, highlight complementary aspects of the collaborative process or
the text. Three approaches emerge in the literature for analyzing collaborative writing. Some studies
(e.g. Strobl, 2015) examine chats surrounding the writing process, while others (e.g. Arnold et al.,
2012; Kost, 2011) analyze collaboration based on the content of revisions; the last approach focuses on
participatory patterns and the level of learner engagement (e.g. Elola & Oskoz, 2010b; Storch, 2002).
Strobl’s (2015) study, which explored the benefits of different types of instructional intervention
(e.g. video and script modeling for collaboration), exemplifies the first type of analysis. Using Meier
et al.’s (2007) framework, the author categorized learners’ chat comments during writing as belong-
ing to three categories: interpersonal relationships (e.g. self-presentation), task alignment and per-
formance orientation and construction of shared knowledge base. These categories, however, reflect
interpersonal communication about a collaboratively written text but do not analyze the text itself.
4 Z. ABRAMS

Two studies illustrate the second approach: the focus of revisions. In one such study, Kost (2011)
found that intermediate participants emphasized grammar-focused revisions over content-focused
ones, and were able to make successful revisions in spite of their relatively low level of proficiency.
Dyads also differed greatly in how they approached the writing process: some brainstormed before-
hand and wrote parallel texts that they simply joined in the end, while others carried on metatalk
about various steps in the process, discussed emerging ideas and the text; yet, others explicitly
adopted unique complementary roles, such as writer and grammar checker. Arnold et al. (2012)
also analyzed revision behavior. The authors distinguished two levels of group-work: learners were
described as cooperative when they divided the task and revised their own work, and as collaborative
if they revised their own and their peers’ work. The results of their study indicated that 75% of their
participants corrected other learners’ work, and therefore approached the task in true collaborative
fashion. However, further analyses suggested that learners preferred making meaning-related revi-
sions to their own contributions, and were more likely to collaborate when it came to form-focused
revisions. Notably, Bernard and Lundgren-Cayrol (2001) differentiate between collaboration and
cooperation slightly differently: the former highlights learners’ intrinsic motivation to work together,
whereas the latter describes participants who are required to share work.
The third approach to analyzing collaboration focuses on the amount of contribution made by
learners. Based on transcripts of oral interactions recorded during peer-editing, Storch (2002) devel-
oped a matrix of participatory patterns along two axes: (1) equality refers to evenly distributed con-
tributions by participants (i.e. turns and content) and equal control over the task, and (2) mutuality
defined as the level of engagement with a peer’s contribution (e.g. reciprocal feedback and shared
ideas). The characteristics were conceptualized as continua, and the intersection of the two axes
yielded a four-way matrix: collaborative pairs had high levels of mutuality and equality, dominant/
dominant pairs showed high levels of equality but low levels of mutuality, dominant/passive pairs
shared low levels of mutuality and equality, while expert/novice pairs had high levels of mutuality
but did not contribute equally to the interaction.
Li and Zhu (in press) adapted Storch’s model to analyze collaborative computer-mediated writing
in Wikis. Their socio-culturally oriented study examined learners’ contributions in terms of who ini-
tiated comments and who responded, followed by interviews to explore learners’ socially con-
structed emotion throughout collaboration. The authors analyzed two groups’ contributions in
depth and found that they shifted collaborative patterns throughout the nine-week long project.
One group moved from a collective pattern (Storch’s collaborative quadrant) to active/withdrawn
(Storch’s dominant/passive quadrant), while the other group moved from a dominant/defensive
(Storch’s expert/novice quadrant) to a collective pattern.
In a similar study grounded in Storch’s analytic model, Elola and Oskoz (2010b) found that partic-
ipants collaborated at three different levels of participation: high-level contributors were responsible
for the production of half of the text or more, mid-level contributors produced about a third of the
text and low-level contributors (providing less than a quarter of the written material). In a similar
study by Kessler et al. (2012), participants added to, changed and/or deleted their peers’ contributions,
most of which were language-related (e.g. grammar) with a smaller portion falling into the non-lan-
guage-related category (e.g. organization). The authors found considerable individual variation among
participatory patterns, labeling learners as high-level contributors if they produced half of the text or
more, whereas mid-level contributors wrote about a third of the text and low-level contributors pro-
vided less than a quarter of the text. The present study follows the second and third approaches to
analyzing collaboration, and investigates how first-year learners of German co-create texts.

3. Study design
3.1. Rationale
As the studies reviewed earlier illustrate, CSCW is a promising locus of collaborative L2 writing.
However, several issues require further investigation. First, computer-supported writing tasks that
COMPUTER ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING 5

foster effective collaboration and encourage learners to balance local and global aspects of writing
need to be identified so that they can help provide crucial opportunities for L2 learning (Elola &
Oskoz, 2010b; Harklau, 2002; Kessler et al., 2012). Second, while collaborative writing has
been explored with more advanced learners of L2 (Arnold et al., 2012; Elola & Oskoz, 2010a, 2010b;
Kessler, 2009; Kost, 2011), little information is available regarding how beginning learners
collaborate in computer-supported environments, especially among foreign language learners
(i.e. in contexts where the L2 is not spoken in the environment). Finally, although existing studies
offer important insights into CSCW processes, a critical review of online resources – for example,
Google Docs – as a methodological, analytic resource is lacking. The present study aims to help fill
in these research gaps. With these considerations in mind, the present study sought answers to the
following research questions:

(1) What do patterns of interaction reveal about the process of collaborative writing among
beginning L2 learners in Google Docs?
(2) What language phenomena do learners focus on, as evidenced by the type of feedback and
corrections they provide each other during computer-mediated writing?

3.2. Participants and the pedagogical context


Twenty-eight learners of German, enrolled in two sections of first-year course at a US university,
participated in the study. They had about 130 hours of German prior to the study, and were at level
A2-B1 (Common European Framework) or Intermediate Low/Intermediate Mid according to the
proficiency scale of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (2012). The course
focused on meaningful, communicative language learning with frequent use of authentic materials.
Participants wrote weekly dialogs or essays individually and collaboratively. The task included in
this study took place during class towards the end of the participants’ first year of learning German.
They had completed two story-completion tasks prior to this assignment, so the assignment was
familiar to them. All writing tasks were graded according to the same rubric, made available to stu-
dents prior to the assignment, which emphasized meaningful and rich responses to prompts, com-
prehensibility, organization and vocabulary (70%) as well as accuracy and syntactic variety (30%).
For the task described in this study, 20% of the grade was assigned to collaboration.
The focal task required that learners write a screenplay for the final 20 minutes of the German
feature-film In July. Research suggests that creative tasks, in which learners can develop ‘new ideas
and freely express themselves’ (Lee, 2010, p. 263) can effectively foster collaborative interaction.
With this in mind, learners had to process the information they had learned while watching the film
(e.g. vocabulary, character traits and key plot elements) in order to write a plausible ending to the
movie. While rarely do we have to write screenplays in the ‘real world,’ hypothesis-building and col-
laborative writing are important skills to develop in an L2.
Pre-, during- and post-viewing tasks ensured comprehension of the content and characters.
Instructions for the writing task were provided in German and were available to the participants
throughout the task. Participants had 10 minutes in class to brainstorm in groups of 3–4 (self-
selected by the participants); the instructor set up the groups in Google Docs. Afterwards, groups
had 15 minutes for synchronous writing using individual computers in class, and 48 hours to con-
tinue their stories asynchronously outside of class. Pre-writing tasks are essential for successful L2
writing (Abrams & Byrd, 2016a, 2016b; Grosbois, 2016; Kormos, 2014); however, while in several
studies the preparatory phase also took place online (Arnold et al., 2012; Kost, 2011; Strobl, 2015),
due to the proficiency level of the participants, the pre-writing tasks were completed in class to pro-
vide adequate scaffolding, for content and organization (see Table 1 for a description of the different
phases of this task).
In order to highlight the notion of audience, and encourage task-completion, participants were
informed that their stories would be read in class the following day. Google Docs was used for this
task because of its ease of access and use, the availability of special characters (needed in German,
6 Z. ABRAMS

Table 1. Task phases.


Class activity Format and rationale
Preparation Watch movie in class, German with English  Whole class activity, with small group-work for
subtitles; exercises ensure comprehension and completing pre-, during- and post-viewing
vocabulary development, in German comprehension activities
 For beginning L2 learners, in-class scaffolding
and frequent comprehension check facilitated
in-depth processing of information
Phase 1 (10 minutes) Groups of 3–4 brainstorm relevant ideas for the  In-class activity, in small groups to allow for
conclusion; assignment is in German, input by the instructor or other learners
brainstorming is done in both German and  Helps learners clarify general theme for the
English conclusion and to organize the task
Phase 2 (15 minutes) Begin first draft of screen-play, in German  In-class, CSCW
 Asks for assistance in case of technical difficulties
Phase 3 (48 hours) Asynchronous writing, in German  Outside of class, requested 150–200 words

for example), ability to track learner contributions, auto-save feature and familiarity to the partici-
pants. Learners’ texts were analyzed for features of collaborative writing using the methods described
in the next section.

3.3. Data analysis


In order to analyze the data, first, groups’ revision histories were evaluated using Storch’s (2002)
criteria of (1) equality, measured as the distribution of content written by participants in a group
(i.e. the number of turns or statements each member contributed to the text), and (2) mutuality,
identified as the level of apparent engagement with a peer’s contribution (e.g. elaborating on ideas,
providing reciprocal feedback or altering content). Interactions between the two categories yield
four possible participatory patterns:

 collaborative: high level of mutuality and equality,


 dominant/dominant: high level of equality but low level of mutuality,
 dominant/passive: low level of mutuality and equality,
 expert/novice: high level of mutuality, but unequal contributions to the interaction.

Storch’s model was originally used for spoken communication about writing (during the writing
process); therefore, it is applied to collaborative writing with caution. However, it provides a comple-
mentary aspect of collaborative patterns (cf. Elola & Oskoz, 2010b; Li & Zhu, in press) to analyses
based on the types of changes learners made in Google Docs. Additionally, how and what learners
focused on in their revisions was analyzed, to evaluate their attention to content, lexicon, grammar,
style, register or mechanics during collaborative writing.

4. Findings
Using Storch’s (2002) categories, in response to the first research question, three main patterns of
participation became evident among the groups: (1) low, (2) sequentially additive and (3) collabora-
tive participation. Figure 1 provides an overview of the group distributions in the four revised
quadrants.
In Group 6 learners showed similarly low levels of participation and mutuality. Its members dis-
cussed the film’s ending in class, and with one participant taking notes, produced a 76-word narra-
tive, to which none of the members added anything outside of class. Therefore, unlike the
dominant/passive descriptor in Storch’s (2002) study, the participants’ contributions here can be
best described as passive/passive. In this regard, the pattern was closer to cooperation than to
COMPUTER ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING 7

Group distribuon by quadrants.


High mutuality
expert/novice collaborave

--- Groups 1, 2, 3 and 9


Low equality High equality
Group 6 Groups 4, 5, 7 and 8

dominant/dominant
passive/passive
(sequenally addive)

Low mutuality

Figure 1. Group distribution by quadrants.

collaboration, according to Bernard and Lundgren-Cayrol’s (2001) definition. They may not have
found the task intrinsically motivating and did not engage in it beyond the in-class phases.
The second pattern, in which participants most closely resembled Storch’s (2002) description of
‘dominant/dominant’ interaction, manifested itself as sequentially additive in this data-set. That is,
participants produced evenly distributed amounts, but subsequent contributors added their segment
of the text without altering anything in their peer’s writing. Their work showed little recursivity,
since once learners completed their contributions, they did not return to Google Docs to make fur-
ther changes, and peers rarely edited each other’s work. The collaborative patterns of Groups 1, 2, 9
and 3 belonged in this category (the more evident dominant patterns are listed first, least dominant
last). Table 2 illustrates the dominant/sequentially additive collaborative pattern across the five drafts
produced by Group 1.
In contrast, Groups 5, 8, 7 and 4 match the collaborative quadrant of Storch’s matrix. Learners in
Group 5 (see Table 3), for example, composed several drafts in class, each participant working at
his/her own computer, adding content, editing each other’s work, elaborating on previously stated
ideas and correcting content and language (discussed in the next section). The collaborative pattern
is characterized by high levels of equality of contribution among participants and high levels of
mutuality or engagement with each other’s text (Storch, 2011).

Table 2. Sample dominant/sequentially additive distribution (Group 1).


Draft/student Draft 1 Draft 2 Draft 3 Draft 4 Draft 5
Time 10:40 am, Day 1 10:31 am, Day 2 5:19 pm, Day 2 10:46 pm, Day 2 11:50 pm, Day 2
S1  Edits/expands – – –
English ideas
 Translates
English draft
into German
 81 words in
German
S2 S1 takes notes based on –  Added content, – –
collective brainstorming in between and
in English (138 words, all after S1
in English)  No editing of
previous text
 Adds 96 words in
German
S3 – –  Adds to English ideas up  Adds concluding
front segment
 Edits one verb (meaning),  Adds 166 words
one noun (word choice), in German
one phrase (meaning)
 Adds 4 words in English
8 Z. ABRAMS

Table 3. Sample collaborative distribution (Group 5).


Draft/student Draft 1 Draft 2 Draft 3 Draft 4 Draft 5 Draft 6 Draft 7 Draft 8
In-class In-class In-class In-class
9:00 am, 9:02 am, 9:08 am, 9:08, am 9:55 pm, 9:59 pm, 10:05 pm, 10:08 pm,
Time Day 1 Day 1 Day 1 Day 1 Day 2 Day 2 Day 2 Day 2
S1 – – – – –  Adds 3 – –
words in
German to
peer’s text
in middle of
story
S2 –  Adds 13  Adds 14  Adds 11  Adds 6  Adds 26  Adds 25  Adds 10 words
words in words in words in words in words in words in in German to
German German to German to German to German to German to middle and end
own text his own own text at peer’s and middle and of story
(end of text (end end of the own text – end of  Edits 5 words,
story) of story) story inter-mixed story reformulates
 Deletes 4 of text
his own
words
S3  Begins  Adds 8  Edits 4  Adds 18  Adds 6  Adds 11  Adds 8 –
story, 22 words in words of words in words in words in words in
words German his own German to German, German to German to
in to his text his both to own text in middle of
German previous (changes previous peer’s text in middle of the story
text formal to text middle and the story
informal) to own text  Deletes 4
at the end words of
own text

However, an important sub-pattern emerged from the data of both the dominant and collabora-
tive groups: in five groups, one participant was very passive, barely contributing anything to the col-
laborative writing task, either in-class or afterwards. These learners tended to be slightly less strong
in their language abilities as evidenced by their performance on course assessments. One such par-
ticipant reported after the task that she had a difficult time understanding what her peers had writ-
ten and felt unable to add anything or correct previous contributions. However, most participants
participated actively in the collaborative writing task. The two active participants in Group 5 can be
considered high-level contributors (adapted for analyzing group performance from Kessler et al.,
2012), as learners made 30% or more of the contributions. Importantly, these participants not only
produced large amount of texts individually, but Group 5 also fulfilled the task requirements in
terms of the amount of text.
In response to the second research question which sought to determine what language aspects –
ideational, linguistic, stylistic, structural or registerial features (Arnold et al., 2012; Kessler, 2009) –
learners attended to during collaborative writing, revision histories were analyzed for novel content
and the types of changes participants made. Google Docs depicts different learners’ contributions in
different colors, and these formed the foundation for this particular analysis. Due to space limita-
tions, only the revision histories of two representative groups, Groups 2 and 4, are included for dis-
cussion here (see Figures 2 and 3).
The data revealed that regardless of participatory patterns, learners’ primary emphasis was on
generating content, although they also attended to accuracy, with most groups achieving 95% of
grammatical accuracy (measured as number of errors per 25 words). The linguistic features partici-
pants corrected pertained to word order, subject–verb agreement, choice of prepositions and spell-
ing. In spite of participants’ proficiency level, they were able to correct errors accurately, echoing
previous findings (Kost, 2011; Lee, 2010). They did not, however, make any changes to the overall
structure of their written text, suggesting a more linear rather than recursive writing process, similar
to findings by Grosbois (2016) and Leblay (2009).
COMPUTER ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING 9

Figure 2. Focus of changes to the collaboratively produced texts – Group 2 (predominantly dominant).

Figure 3. Focus of changes to the collaboratively produced texts – Group 4 (predominantly collaborative).

5. Discussion
The present study sought answers to three research questions. In response to the first research ques-
tion, three main patterns of participation became evident among the groups: (1) low, (2) sequentially
additive and (3) collaborative participation. These patterns echoed categories defined by Storch
(2002), with the exception of her novice/expert pairing, which did not appear in this data-set. Three
modifications were necessary to Storch’s categories. First, with low mutuality and low participation,
a new label of passive/passive had to be added to the dominant/passive quadrant. Second, Storch’s
dominant pattern manifested as sequentially additive in learners’ texts. This might be a function of
them being less experienced writers (not in terms of L2 proficiency, but in writing expertise); Leblay
(2009) noted that novice learners tend to proceed in a linear fashion with little revising, while more
expert writers exhibit more recursivity throughout the writing process, making changes, insertions,
corrections throughout. Nonetheless, it would be inaccurate to say that the texts were not collabora-
tive, since the second and third writers had to have read and understood the previous text in order
to add their own meaningful contribution (there were no incoherent additions in the data). Third,
the qualifier ‘predominantly’ had to be added to the descriptors of small-group collaboration, since
two participants could be collaborative while one member was passive or absent. These findings can
also be analyzed according to notions of high-, mid- and low-level contributors (Kessler et al.,
2012). These descriptors, however, have to be modified for non-dyadic collaborative writing and to
10 Z. ABRAMS

reflect varying rates of contributions by individuals, who may be high-level contributors during the
in-class segment of collaborative writing but not online. In other words, different participatory pat-
terns may be evident at different stages of writing, as Li and Zhu (in press) also found.
In response to the second research question, this study confirmed previous findings that collabo-
rative writing leads to an emphasis on content (Elola & Oskoz, 2010a, 2010b; Kessler et al., 2012).
While the learners’ proficiency level may have contributed to this focus (e.g. Storch, 2011), it is prob-
able that collaborative writing highlights the social aspect of writing and thus encourages meaning-
making, which, at lower levels of proficiency in particular, is expressed via the lexicon (Elola &
Oskoz, 2010a, 2010b; Kessler et al., 2012; Storch, 2002; Storch & Wigglesworth, 2007; Swain &
Lapkin, 2001; Watanabe & Swain, 2007).

6. Conclusion
The present study investigated the collaborative writing of twenty-eight L2 learners of German in
a computer-mediated environment, using Google Docs. Before discussing pedagogical and
research implications, it is important to note the study’s limitations. Most importantly, due to
the language skill level of the learners, two segments of the writing process were done in-class,
and talking about the written text (i.e. utilizing Google Docs affordances to include chat func-
tions) was not a task requirement. These features of task design may have influenced how much
writing remained for the out-of-class, asynchronous phase of the task. Had the activity included
brainstorming online, learners may have focused more on meaning than on accuracy, for a
coherent structure and content to emerge. Related to this issue, the pre-writing discussion was
not recorded as part of the study. Thus, it is impossible to tell whether learners emphasized con-
tent or organization during this phase, and how their discussion may have influenced the ensuing
computer-supported writing process.
Nonetheless, several pedagogical and research implications emerged from the data, albeit given
the qualitative nature of the study, the findings are not generalizable to other contexts. First, further
research is needed with L2 learners at various levels of proficiency to see if there is an optimal imple-
mentation point pedagogically that results in improved computer-mediated collaborative writing
tasks. Second, since collaborative L2 writing may have a far-reaching impact on L2 in general
(Harklau, 2002; Storch, 2011; Watanabe & Swain, 2007), it is important to optimize the collaborative
process itself, and at the very least ensure that it is, indeed, collaborative. It is equally important ped-
agogically, that the final text meets the minimum expectations for the task; being the most produc-
tive member of a group (i.e. high-level contributor) or the focus of revisions cannot be sufficient
criteria for measuring collaboration (Kessler et al., 2012). Instead, definitions of collaborative writing
should include an assessment of how well the group achieves the task objectives (Samuda & Bygate,
2008). Third, Google Docs could be used throughout the writing process – during pre-writing (e.g.
brainstorming), collaborative writing and editing – to investigate whether learners’ attention is dif-
ferentially allocated to meaning or form (and mechanics) at different stages, or if such attention is
simply a function of individual versus collaborative writing tasks (or explicit requirements, as sug-
gested by Ware and O’Dowd, 2008). Furthermore, continued investigation is needed into the notion
of expert/novice writers and how to facilitate the movement from one level to the next in an L2
(Grosbois, 2016; Leblay, 2009) and explore L2 learning that emerges during and as a result of
CSCW tasks, and their effects on global L2 development.

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their thorough and constructive feedback on the draft of this man-
uscript. I would also like to express my gratitude towards the students who participated in this study; without their
help, this article would not have been possible.
COMPUTER ASSISTED LANGUAGE LEARNING 11

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Notes on contributor
Zsuzsanna Abrams is a professor at the University of California Santa Cruz. Her research interests include second lan-
guage acquisition, computer-mediated communication, computer-supported collaborative writing, L2 writing and the
development of L2 pragmatic competence.

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