Unit Two: How - and why - should I use CSCL to teach writing?

Unit Goals:

552987.gif By the completion of this unit you should be able to:

  • identify the value of collaboration as part of the writing process
  • analyze the task of writing as a social, not merely independent, process

Case Study

In order to help us better understand how CSCL applies in our own classroom, let's look at it through a hypothetical case study.



Mrs. Bell is an English teacher in a small rural high school. Improvement in writing is an important goal for her students, so she frequently assigns students to write traditional essays. The students are most often assigned their topic, and then they are required to work on it independently. When the students complete the essays, they are required to turn them in to Mrs. Bell, who reads them and gives them a grade. Students are often compliant in finishing the essay assignments, but they do complain about doing them. When students receive their essays back, they often just look at the grade and then stuff it into a binder (or sometimes toss it in the recycling bin). Mrs. Bell is frustrated that her students are not motivated to put effort into their writing, and their skills are not improving as much as she hoped they would.

Reflective Journal #2:

Stop%20sign.png After reading the situation above, write a journal response to the following questions. After recording your thoughts, discuss them face to face with a colleague.

  • Mrs. Bell's class assignments are fairly typical for a high school English classroom. What are the benefits of these traditional writing assignments? What are the weaknesses?
  • What can be done to help students improve more or become more engaged in their writing?

Writing as a Collaborative Process

Traditionally, writing is taught as an independent activity. Many classroom writing tasks are similar to Mrs. Bell's -- there is only one writer (the student) and only one reader (the teacher). While independent writing ability is important, the reality is that collaborative writing is just as important, especially in our modern world. Think about the last piece of writing you did that was important to you, whether it was something for work, a newspaper letter to the editor, or even a toast at a wedding. Did you have others help you? Did you ask for input from a variety of people?

Writing pieces are inevitably almost always better when they are co-created by a variety of minds proposing ideas and giving feedback. In both the university and in college, scholars, writers, and workers depend on collaborative teams when constructing the written word. So why must we insist that our elementary and secondary school students must complete writing tasks in isolation from peers?

Research shows that collaborative writing is not only beneficial in creating a better final product, but in strengthening the learning experience for participants (Kittle and Hicks 2008).

So how can computers support collaborative writing?

Of course, collaborative writing can be done face to face, with collaborators all physically working together at the same time. However, the reality is that getting several people together all at the same time can be a challenge. This challenge can be overcome through use of the web.

Stop%20sign.png Read the following article to explore one teacher's experience with using the internet to encourage a collaborative writing experience: Using Wikis as Collaborative Writing Tool

After Reading: Reflective Journal #3

In a written journal response, consider the following questions. When finished, share your thoughts with a colleague and discuss your ideas face to face.

  • What are the benefits of online collaborative learning? What are the downfalls?
  • How could a wiki as described in the article benefit students in Mrs. Bell's hypothetical class? How could they foster motivation? How do they encourage greater student accountability?
  • Could you see a wiki being effective in your own classroom?


Kittle, P., & Hicks, T. (2009). Transforming the Group Paper with Collaborative Online Writing. Pedagogy, 9(3), 525-538.

Using Wikis as Collaborative Writing Tool

icon-criticspicks-no-text.png Finished with Unit Two? Move on to Unit Three: What are tools that I can use for the practical application of CSCL in my classroom?

Return to Unit One: What is Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, and why use it?

Back to CSCL Mini-Course