Collaborative and Interactive Writing for Increasing Communication Skills

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  • Collaborative and Interactive Writing for Increasing Communication SkillsAuthor(s): Karen L. SmithSource: Hispania, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Mar., 1990), pp. 77-87Published by: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and PortugueseStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/342962 .Accessed: 27/04/2013 08:47

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  • Karen L. Smith, University of Arizona

    Collaborative and Interactive Writing for Increasing Communication Skills

    0.0 Introduction

    F eign language instruction has long bene- fited from access to audio-video devices aimed at facilitating and promoting listening skill de- velopment in the target language. During the last decade, computers have provided addi- tional opportunities to practice structures and vocabulary in a written extension of the exer- cises once only found in audio labs or textbook drills and exercises.' Now, computers have the capacity to offer highly creative and in- teractive environments for learning, thus opening the way for an educational revolution that promotes individuality, creativity, and originality. This study shows that computer- based lessons can promote reading and writ- ing proficiency through on line activities that encourage critical thinking, decision making, and imaginative expression of personal ideas. The Zork series, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Uni- verse, and The Mist are just a few examples of the type of computer games that promote reading, writing, and decision making skills. These interactive literature programs capti- vate users by requiring them to role play, solve puzzles, and write clear directions in order to stay alive, progress through a maze, or collect treasure. In addition, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and its U.S.A. and Europe versions teach geography, currency, travel skills, and more, while students focus on pur- suing the elusive Carmen and her gang of thieves. Games such as these can be used in ESL classes in their commercial form to pro- vide computer-based, interactive work that promotes thoughtful use of the target lan- guage.

    Unfortunately, foreign language-specific, versions of these interactive materials are not yet on the market. However, teachers can encourage programmers working in foreign language CAI to learn from the success of interactive materials and turn their efforts to- ward programs that accept a variety of solu- tions and accordingly guide students to use the language for communication and problem solving purposes. Still, until such imaginative and interactive foreign language packages be- come widely available, it is possible for teach- ers to fill the creative void by utilizing commer- cial computer conferences, bulletin boards, and writing packages such as Word Perfect to generate interactive and collaborative skill de- velopment environments. This paper exam- ines potential applications of computer-based communication tools, i.e., commercial com- puter conferences, bulletin boards, word pro- cessors, outline processors, and electronic dictionaries, to proficiency development in second language students.

    1.0 The Experiment In order to determine the degree to which

    computer-based writing tools effect skill de- velopment, 118 fourth semester Spanish stu- dents at the University of Arizona, a Research I Institution in the Southwest were given op- portunities to write using computer con- ferencing or word processing facilities. All stu- dents in classes using computers met face-to- face for three fifty-minute periods per week. Students in traditional classes met for four fifty-minute periods per week.

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  • 78 HISPANIA 73 MARCH 1990

    1.1 Computer Conferencing

    A group of 44 students engaged in conver- sational writing activities that stressed com- munication. Students conversed with the aid of a CoSy, a computer conferencing system developed by the University of Guelph and housed on the institution's VAX 11/780. Com- puter conferencing expands the potential of traditional face-to-face group communication by combining computing and telecommunica- tions applications to create a powerful com- munication environment, free of time and dis- tance constraints. Participants can join discus- sions at any time from any computer. The un-hurried, non-pressured environment can lower or even eliminate affective filters thus encouraging learning as well as acquisition of communication strategies.

    Once a participant adds a new message to the discussion, it automatically becomes avail- able for consideration and comment by all other conference members. Messages are au- tomatically labeled by date, time, author and order received, thus permitting users to pro- cess the information in an organized manner, according to their own needs. When computer conferencing is used as a basis of instruction, student initiated cooperative learning ven- tures, such as peer teaching and tutoring ac- tivities to supplement and enhance the efforts of the teacher, are almost certain to arise spontaneously as classmates become friends and seek to share their personal insights into the functions of the L2.

    Despite occasional errors, communication prepared by students using CoSy was fully comprehensible and tailored to their peer audience. Prior preparation included read- ing other students' contributions, planning messages, watching videos, and consulting peers, texts, or dictionaries. Production tended toward creative self-expression and lively debates that paralleled and supple- mented in-class conversations. Users became so engrossed in these on-line conversations that they spent an average of 3 hours per week using the computer for conversational writing purposes. As a result, each student produced approximately 1,500 words during the semester. All conferencing work was done in addition to that prepared as part of regular assignments. Students made no attempt to translate previously written messages. In- stead, they paused while composing to seek

    dictionary aid; thus they avoided incorporating English words and phrases into their texts. 1.2 Word Processing

    A second group of 24 students employed Word Perfect 4.2 as a composition tool. Be- cause of the ease with which they could write and correct, this group chose to dedicate their computer time to composing and rewriting in order to produce correct language samples. By their own admission they focused more on accuracy than on creative expression of ideas. Accordingly they limited their structural choices to those with which they felt most secure and devoted a significant portion of their time on line to searching for and correct- ing grammar and vocabulary errors. Learners in this group logged an average of 90 minutes per week on the computer. They produced approximately 600 words per person over the course of the semester. Some worked in pairs, brainstorming and editing each other's drafts. All cited texts, dictionaries, and peers as re- source materials. Only one attempted to write compositions in English and translate them. Their computer work was completed in addi- tion to all standard fourth semester assign- ments.

    1.3 Traditional The third group received no special treat-

    ment. These 50 students wrote compositions at home using pen and paper techniques. None spent more than the required time in contact with Spanish. None wrote more than the re- quired number of compositions and one-third did not fulfill minimum requirements as to number and length of compositions. One- fourth of the compositions submitted during the semester were flagged as translation at- tempts. Compositions prepared by traditional students were shorter, more stilted, but as accurate as those prepared by the Word Per- fect group. In-class practice stressed conver- sation and grammar study. Reading practice was regularly assigned as homework and used as the basis of some in-class conversations. Learners admitted they spent no extra time on the course and frequently failed to prepare reading assignments. 1.4 Results

    Figure 1 summarizes the results of matched Ttests performed on the CoSy, Word Perfect, and Traditional groups to determine

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  • WRITING FOR INCREASING COMMUNICATION SKILLS 79

    the degree of progress between midterm and final exams for Reading, Conversation, and Listening skills. Writing progress has been divided into two variables: Ideas and Accu- racy. The Progress variable represents the average degrees of overall progress for each student. Listening is the only variable for which all groups experienced a decline be- tween midterm and final exams. It is impor- tant to note that the final listening exam de- manded more attention to detail than did the midterm. A minimum significance level of S= .05 was specified as acceptable for this study.

    overall mean increase between midterm and final exams for the Word Perfect group was 5.95% (a = .0008). 1.4.2 CoSy Group

    Despite reductions in time devoted to face- to-face contact for oral skill development dur- ing CoSy supplemental classes (a maximum of 150 minutes per week instead of 200), com- puter conferencing-based communication practice influenced students' ability to inter- act successfully with texts as well as with other students in oral exchanges. The CoSy group showed significant progress in reading

    Figure 1 Matched Ttests

    Difference of Means within Group READING GROUP N Obs Mean Std Error T Prob> T

    WPER 24 10.00 1.75 5.72 0.0001 COSY 44 8.14 1.83 4.45 0.0001 TRAD 50 3.50 2.06 1.70 0.0952

    LISTENING GROUP N Obs Mean Std Error T Prob> IT WPER 24 -14.17 4.74 -2.99 0.0065 COSY 44 - 5.05 3.68 -1.37 0.1777 TRAD 50 -14.00 3.34 -4.19 0.0001

    CONVERSATION GROUP N Obs Mean Std Error T Prob> Tj WPER 24 2.37 1.30 1.82 0.0814 COSY 44 2.23 0.98 2.27 0.0285 TRAD 50 2.44 1.08 2.26 0.0282

    WRITTEN IDEAS GROUP N Obs Mean Std Error T Prob> T WPER 24 10.42 3.11 3.35 0.0028 COSY 44 8.48 2.16 3.93 0.0003 TRAD 50 2.96 2.92 1.01 0.3154

    WRITTEN ACCURACY GROUP N Obs Mean Std Error T Prob> Tj WPER 24 4.58 2.20 2.08 0.0484 COSY 44 2.86 1.58 1.82 0.0762 TRAD 50 6.34 1.21 5.22 0.0001

    PROGRESS GROUP N Obs Mean Std Error T Prob> T WPER 24 5.95 1.54 3.85 0.0008 COSY 44 2.99 1.21 2.47 0.0175 TRAD 50 0.20 1.08 0.18 0.8549

    1.4.1 Word Perfect Group

    The Word Perfect group showed progress significant at the a = .0001 level for reading and at a = .0484 for grammatical and lexical accuracy. Progress in expression of written ideas were also significant (a = .0028). The conversation variable suggests a tendency to- ward significance, but only at a = .0814, not acceptable according to the specified a = .05 standard of this study. Listening showed a significant loss of 14.17% (a = .0065). The

    (a = .0001) and in oral and written expression of ideas (a = .0285 and .0003). Since the com- puter conferencing format did not lend itself to editing and revision, students tended to concentrate on posting ideas rather than on accuracy. Thus, the accuracy variable was sig- nificant only at t = .0762. Although the group experienced a 5.05% loss for listening, the decline was not significant (a = .1777). 4.1.3 Traditional Group

    The fifty students in the Traditional group

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  • 80 HISPANIA 73 MARCH 1990

    that received no computer treatment made sig- nificant progress in conversation (a = .0282) and accuracy (a = .0001), the two areas stressed during in-class practice. This group's progress in reading (a = .0952) did not attain a minimum level of significance, yet indicated that progress had been made. No significant progress was made in the expression of writ- ten ideas as shown by a mean increase of only 2.96 (a = .3154). Despite receiving more lis- tening opportunities than did members of the two computer supplemented groups, students in Traditional classes experienced a significant decline of 14% in this area (a = .0001).

    Figure 2 presents Ttests illustrating per- formance differences between the Word Per- fect and Traditional groups. Significant differ- ences exist for reading (Unequal, a =.0187

    and Equal, a = .0468), and for overall progress (Unequal, a =.0037 and Equal, a=.0032). The Ideas variable displayed only a tendency toward significance (Unequal, a = .0855 and Equal, a =.1199).

    Figure 3 reveals that no significant differ- ences exist between the Word Perfect and CoSy groups. Both computer supplemented groups benefitted from interactive, communi- cation-oriented practice.

    Statistics presented above suggest that, no matter the type of practice available on the computer, students tended to become in- volved in computerized activities and thus de- voted more time to learning activities than did their counterparts using traditional for- mats. Consequently, computer users im- proved significantly in their ability to read and

    Figure 2 Ttest Procedure

    Difference of Means Between Traditional and Word Perfect Groups

    GROUP N Mean StdD StdE Min Max Variances T DF Prob> JTI READ WPER 24 10.00 8.56 1.75 - 5 44 Unequal -2.41 68.8 0.0187

    TRAD 50 3.50 14.55 2.06 -31 23 Equal -2.02 72.0 0.0468

    LIST WPER 24 -14.17 23.20 4.45 -40 40 Unequal 0.03 46.3 0.9772 TRAD 50 -14.00 23.65 3.34 -60 40 Equal 0.03 72.0 0.9772

    SPEAK WPER 24 2.38 6.38 1.30 -10 17 Unequal 0.03 53.5 0.9695 TRAD 50 2.44 7.63 1.08 -18 20 Equal 0.04 72.0 0.9713

    IDEAS WPER 24 10.42 15.23 3.11 -40 40 Unequal -1.75 59.6 0.0855 TRAD 50 2.96 20.64 2.92 -40 60 Equal -1.57 72.0 0.1199

    GRAM WPER 24 4.58 10.77 2.20 -16 28 Unequal 0.70 37.5 0.4885 TRAD 50 6.34 8.58 1.21 -18 24 Equal 0.76 72.0 0.4511

    PROG WPER 24 5.95 7.57 1.54 -14 22 Unequal -3.06 45.7 0.0037 TRAD 50 0.20 7.61 1.08 -14 19 Equal -3.05 72.0 0.0032

    Figure 3 Ttest Procedure

    Difference of Means Between CoSy and Word Perfect Groups

    GROUP N Mean StdD StdE Min Max Variances T DF Prob> ITI READ WPER 24 10.00 8.56 1.75 - 5 23 Unequal -0.74 61.5 0.4638

    COSY 44 8.14 12.11 1.83 -28 37 Equal -0.67 66.0 0.5070 LIST WPER 24 -14.17 23.20 4.74 -40 40 Unequal 1.52 49.5 0.1348

    COSY 44 - 5.05 24.42 3.68...

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