Writing has always been a time-consuming and complex task for both teachers and students. At tertiary and higher education, students are required to do research writing both individually and collaboratively. "The term collaborative writing refers to projects where written works are created by multiple together (collaboratively) rather than individually" (Collaborative writing, 2009). Obviously, this style of writing has the potential to be far superior to individual writing in that responsibilities are equitably shared, a variety of perspectives come together for a larger problem, and all the strengths of each individuals are pooled (Connery & Vohs, 1999). However, there is the fact that collaborative writing does not always bring about equal benefits to all the students. Because of limited time and scope of the research, problems such as ineffective peer reviewing, uneven contribution, and conflict/ disagreement among group members will be discussed. The research attempts to study how those underlying factors influence the performance of group members in collaborative tasks in the process of writing a research paper, and offer some solutions for teachers and students to tackle the difficulties.
Prior to a research paper writing course in the curriculum, students have primarily learnt to write different types of academic English essays; moreover, they have certain experiences with collaborative writing tasks. As a result of my own observations throughout several semesters teaching this course, I am under the impression that not all of the students profit from it. Several problems emerge during the course. Firstly, peer review does not work effectively among group members. They are unable to give feedback to their group member's writing because they do not want their partner to lose their face, as Hirvela (1999) asserts, "...participating in group critiques of individually authored papers may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience for them" (p. 9). Also, they are used to looking forward to the teacher's response to nearly all pieces of writing and they cannot evaluate their partner's opinions. Anderson (2004) contends that those who mostly rely on their teacher's comments on their writing find it difficult to familiarize themselves in the task of peer reviewing. Many of the students consider writing as an exercise in grammar accuracy to be evaluated by the teacher rather than as a way to convey meaning to the reader, therefore, they will not be pressed to develop their ideas in a meaningful way or they cannot express their ideas as well as expected. It is the rigid or inappropriate rules of the writing curriculum that has to be blamed for this. Secondly, students often complain about the unequal division of work among group members. Posner and Baeker (1993) (as cited in No?l & Robert, 2004) have classified four types of co-writers: (1) "single writer" refers to the situation that one person writes, the others perform other tasks, (2) "separate writers" are responsible for their own part of the writing, (3) in "joint writing" authors work together quite closely on the text, and (4) "parallel writing" refers to the situation in which all the and members complete their assigned part at the same time (p. 67). Most usually, students fall into the fourth category and the synchronous type of separate and joint writers, and this is where the problem emerges. If students choose their partners of different levels and then work separately, the quality of the research paper cannot be guaranteed. In the case of a mixed type of writers, students go through the preliminary stages of writing (e.g. brainstorming for ideas, organising them, searching for relevant materials, etc.) as a group, but then write independently, after that, they put all their parts together. If their part is not well-written enough, and peer editing does not help them much, then their paper needs rewriting, which is a waste of time and energy of each member. The last problem I would like to mention is the disagreement on ideas and/ or criticism among co-writers. It is totally natural that students often come up with different opinions in group discussion. However, some students seem not to acknowledge their peers' ideas, instead, they think their ideas are the best and cannot be criticized. Moreover, some others are not ready to deal with disagreement nor can they learn something from the friends' criticism. They have to ask for the teacher's help to settle down the conflict, and/ or underestimate their peer reviewers.
Several apppropriate solutions are offered to both teachers and students to overcome the aforementioned problems. First of all, for the effective peer editing among group members, students should learn to ask the right questions that help the writers improve their texts. The questions and/ or comments should be as specific as possible. Besides, Leki (1997) emphasizes the students' responsibilities as writers and peer reviewers in peer review sessions. In this step, the teacher can determine whether the students have provided effective feedback or not by observing the whole process and looking at the revised draft summitted to him/ her with brief comments. More importantly, students learn to respect others' evaluation, and also learn to evaluate others' writing to fit their audience properly rather than criticizing them for mechanical mistakes. Second, students should take great responsibility in dividing equal workload among group members in a supportive manner, that is, better students can shoulder the more challenging part for those of lower level. However, teachers' supervision is also essential throughout the whole process because some students are so passive that they do not know what to do and how to do it. Then, teachers should give some suggestions or motivations to stimulate their creativity as well as their excitement in learning this complex skill. What's more, it is of great significance that group members report their effort in writing collaboratively, and group writing should be honoured rather than individual writing. Finally, according to Leki (1997), coming up with opposing ideas and conflicts among members in group writing is unavoidable in the entire course. However, if each member finds it unable to consider and analyze opposing ideas and choose the most likely, then students have no chance to improve themselves through collaborative writing.
Students benefits variously from a collaborative writing course, some obtain the ultimate goal of the course, that is, to make progress in writing a research paper whereas some others' advancement is hindered because of inefficient peer response, inequitable workload shared, and difference of member's opinions. These problems can be well-treated with great attempts from both teachers and students. In other words, teachers' thorough supervision and proper motivation alongside with students' responsibility will significantly contribute to the students' success.
- Anderson, L. (2004, Winter). From Mechanics to Meaning through Formative Peer Feedback. Essential Teacher, 1(5), 54-56.
- Collaborative writing. (2009). Retrieved March 17, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
- Connery, B. A., & Vohs, J. L. (1999). Group work and Collaborative writing. (Retrieved 18 March 2009 from http://dhc.ucdavis.edu/vohs/sec11.html
- Hirvela, A. (1999, Summer). Collaborative writing instruction and communities of readers and writers. TESOL Journal, 8 (2), 7-12.
- Leki, I. (1997). Coaching from the margins: issues in written response. In B. Kroll (Ed.), Second Language Writing: Research insights for the classroom (pp. 57-68). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- No?l, S. & Robert, J. M. (2004). Empirical Study on Collaborative Writing: What Do Co-authors Do, Use, and Like? Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 13(1), 63-89. Retrieved April 22, 2009 from http://www.springerlink.com/content/p0867n5746730504/