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Work 1: Educational Theory Analysis- Literature Review

Project Overview

Project Description

Topic: Take one of the theories or theoretical concepts introduced in this course. Look ahead into the course learning module to get a sense of upcoming ideas—don’t feel constrained to explore concepts introduced early in the course. Or explore a related theory or concept of your own choosing that is relevant to the course themes. 

Convey in your introduction how your topic aligns with the course themes and your experience and interests.  Outline the theory or define the concept referring to the theoretical and research literature and illustrate the significance of the theory using examples of this concept at work in pedagogical practice, supported by scholarly sources.

For Doctoral Students: Theoretical and Empirical Literature Review: Work 1 must be in the genre of a literature review with at least 10 scholarly sources. For specific details, refer to the Literature Review Guidelines provided later in this document. 

Word length: at least 2000 words

Media: Include images, diagrams, infographics, tables, embedded videos, (either uploaded into CGScholar, or embedded from other sites), web links, PDFs, datasets or other digital media. Be sure to caption media sources and connect them explicitly with the text, with an introduction before and discussion afterwards.

References: Include a References “element” or section with at least ten scholarly articles or books that you have used and referred to in the text, plus any other necessary or relevant references, including websites and media.

Rubric: Use the ‘Knowledge Process Rubric’ against which others will review your work, and against which you will do your self-review at the completion of your final draft.

Icon for Literature Review: Online Collaborative Writing in ESL/EFL Education

Literature Review: Online Collaborative Writing in ESL/EFL Education


University English language center instructors are often tasked with assisting ESL (English as a Second Language) or EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learners from all departments and majors with both their general academic writing and discipline-specific writing. In many writing-focused ESL/EFL courses being taught, students are tasked with completing collaborative writing assignments such as engineering project proposals, business proposals, and scientific research or lab reports. Often these assignments are written and edited using online collaborative writing platforms such as Google Docs and instructors are able to monitor the writing process and provide feedback during the course of the group work. Based on observations of students' writing and learning processes and the evaluation of the end-products of collaborative writing, many instructors wonder if there are any ways to improve current practice and achieve better outcomes that lead to the production of higher-quality texts. It may be possible to find better ways to structure tasks, utilize platforms and deliver feedback to increase student engagement, facilitate more comprehensive and meaningful peer feedback, and drive students to make more frequent and extensive revisions to content, organization and language. There is also interest in how to integrate both individual writing tasks and collaborative writing tasks into online courses and blended learning courses. This literature review will begin with a description of current trends in collaborative writing, which will be followed with an overview of several collaborative writing models across multiple genres of writing. The next two sections will include an exploration of the affordances offered by online collaborative writing platforms and tasks and an analysis of problematic issues with online collaborative writing pedagogy and outcomes that have been discussed in the research.

Current Trends in Collaborative Writing

Collaborative writing can be generally defined as “two or more people working together to produce a document with group responsibility for the end product” (Elola & Oskoz, 2010, p. 51). During the process of collaborative writing, participants mutually depend on each other's cooperation while using the same information, resources, and tools. They must do this in order to successfully exchange ideas, make plans, offer suggestions and solve problems to accomplish a writing task (Nykopp, Marttunen & Erkens, 2018). Collaborative writing activities and online collaboration tools are increasingly being used in university-level ESL/EFL writing education and general writing education. Students may be asked to work on a group project by collaborating on a single document in word processing platforms such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word, or they may use other asynchronous and synchronous writing platforms or tools such as wikis, chat, forums and blogs (Limbu & Marknuskaite, 2015). According to Elola and Oskoz (2010), “research into collaborative writing, both in the first language (L1) and second language (L2), has shown that this pedagogical approach has great potential; it demands reflective thinking, helps learners to focus on grammatical accuracy, lexis and discourse, and it encourages a pooling of knowledge about the language” (p. 51). In some cases, instructors have completely replaced traditional individual writing assignments with collaborative writing assignments based on these research findings and emerging instructional trends.

A strong justification for incorporating collaborative writing in the university ESL/EFL context is that doing so follows writing trends in both academic and professional practices. Perkel (2014) described how collaborative writing is becoming common practice in the writing and publishing of scientific papers. A growing number of researchers utilize browser-based coauthoring tools such as Google Docs, Authorea, writeLaTex and Overleaf to facilitate synchronous and asynchronous collaborative writing, editing, formatting and bibliography management. Giminez and Thondhlana (2012) found that engineers in both university-settings and industry-settings collaboratively write articles, projects, reports, and "most discipline-specific genres" (p. 471).The following videos demonstrate how platforms such as Authorea and Overleaf are used to support collaborative scholarly writing and collaborative professional writing:

Media embedded November 3, 2019
                      (Authorea, 2017)


Media embedded November 3, 2019
                       (Overleaf, 2016)

Collaborative Writing Models

Collaborative Writing models vary depending on the genre of a piece of writing, the profession or field of study in which the writing is occurring, and the dynamics of student interaction. The writing process and tasks that students undertake may substantially vary depending on the structure and goals of an assignment or project. The UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center (2019) explains these differences: “The range of possible collaboration varies from a group of co-authors who go through each portion of the writing process together, writing as a group with one voice, to a group with a primary author who does the majority of the work and then receives comments or edits from the co-authors." The nature and extent of collaboration in a group writing task may fall on a spectrum, meaning that there may be varying amounts of synchronous and asynchronous communication and collaboration during the task. The following figure illustrates this spectrum:

Figure 1: "The spectrum of collaboration in group writing" (UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center, 2019)

Although collaborative writing groups may exhibit different levels of collaboration during a particular task, there may be a common process that the majority of groups use. Last (2019) developed a basic model for collaborative professional technical writing that closely resembles a process writing approach often employed in education and ESL/EFL writing tasks. The graphic below shows the model and components within each phase:

Figure 2: "Collaborative Writing Stages" (Last, 2019, p. 117)

In their research on engineering writing, Giminez and Thondhlana (2012) described several models that represent collaborative writing processes with diverse levels of organization, coordination, social interaction, autonomy and task-achievement. The characteristics and relative advantages and disadvantages of the sequential model, parallel model and variations on the parallel model are presented in Figure 3:

Figure 3: "Models of collaborative writing: characteristics, advantages and disadvantages" (Gimenez & Thondhlana, 2012, p. 474)

In the business world, similar models are employed for professional writing tasks. The following video by Gregg Learning (2018) introduces four models (a cooperative model, a sequential model, a functional model and an integrated model) and briefly describes how each model functions:

Media embedded November 3, 2019
             (Gregg Learning, 2018)

Within these types of collaborative writing models, Jannsen, Erkens, Kirschner and Kanselaar (2012) identified four major types of activities learners engage in during the collaborative writing process: 1) performing task-related activities, 2) performing social activities, 3) coordination or regulation of task-related activities, and 4) coordination or regulation of social activities. Performing task-related activities includes pooling information, exchanging ideas, asking questions, writing content on a platform, and working on a common goal to create a final product. Performing social activities refers to supporting group members, offering praise, and creating a positive collaborative atmosphere through support and relationship maintenance. Coordination or regulation of task-related activities involves the overall management of the project and metacognitive activities such as making plans, monitoring progress, and evaluating plans and group member contributions. Coordination or regulation of social activities refers to discussing collaboration strategies, monitoring the collaboration process, evaluating the efficacy of the collaboration, and reflecting on one’s own collaborative conduct (Janssen, Erkens, Kirschner & Kanselaar, 2012, p. 26-28).

Giminez and Thondhlana (2012) also identified core activities and support activities that occur across all of these models:

Figure 4: "Core and support activities in collaborative writing (CW)" (Gimenez & Thondhlana, 2012, p. 474)

Online collaborative writing tools provide several affordances to support these models, improve the overall writing process and achieve educational goals. These tools can be used to encourage equal participation that is not dependent on time and space, allow for more flexibility in how information is shared and how writing is developed, provide a platform for peer review, and support a teacher’s monitoring of student progress and recursive feedback practices (Nykopp, Marttunen & Erkens, 2018). However, according to Limbu & Markauskaite (2014), although “OCW tools enable learners to participate in, and to form, communities that engage in purposeful communication…these tools cannot, by themselves, bring about useful learning. Success and learning gains depend not only on technologies, but also on the entire ecology of learning” (p. 394). Several studies have been conducted to compare the processes, results, and overall efficacy of individual writing, in-person collaborative writing and online collaborative writing in ESL/EFL contexts. The next two sections will explore some of the affordances and problematic issues reported in the literature.

Online Collaborative Writing Affordances

Some studies have concluded that online collaborative writing has a positive effect on student perceptions of writing tasks and engagement in these tasks. Limbu & Markauskaite (2014) explained that a learner’s views of the online collaborative writing process, engagement level with technology or a learning environment, and relationship with the learning community all impact the efficacy of collaborative writing tasks. They found that students viewed online collaborative writing in the following four ways:

  • a) as a way to divide work between participants in order to complete writing tasks efficiently;
  • b) as a means to combine expertise to produce a good end product;
  • c) as an activity involving the fusion of ideas and insights to enable a deeper understanding of content;
  • d) and as a means to develop new skills and attitudes for collaborative work and interaction. (Limbu & Markauskaite, 2014, p. 393)

Related to this, online collaborative writing has also been found to improve students’ self-efficacy. Tai (2016) implemented online collaborative writing in a blended learning environment to examine if learner’s self-efficacy attitudes are relevant to improving their writing. It was found that online collaborative writing “enhanced the learners’ performance and self-efficacy…could effectively alter the learners’ latent structures of self-efficacy…[and] was helpful to increase both learners’ competence and self-efficacy perceptions simultaneously” (p. 130). These studies seem to suggest that collaborative writing may have an overall positive effect on students' views on the learning process itself, which could lead to higher levels of motivation and better performance.

Other researchers have found that online collaborative writing effects the results of the writing process and that students exhibit different content quality, organizational methods and editing/proofreading practices when writing individually or collaboratively. Martinez-Sáez, Corral-Esteban and Vinagre-Laranjeira (2018) conducted a study with an experimental group of online collaborative writers and a control group of small groups that met in-person and found that the “experimental group tended to be more productive, showed a higher level of expertise, and felt more confident and positive. However, students in the control group preferred to adopt a more formal and personal approach to the task” (p. 191). The authors speculated that this could be the result of control groups focusing more on the task itself (content, structure, format and wording) and the experimental group focusing more on the collaborative learning process.

In terms of organization, Elola and Oskoz (2010) discovered that individual online writers tended to establish their thesis and then work on the structure multiple times during the writing process while online collaborative writing groups established a clear structure early on in the writing process. They also determined that individual writers preferred to edit their writing and proofread the grammar and vocabulary when the text was near completion while collaborative writers tended to do this more frequently throughout the writing process. In contrast to the individual writing during which most of the proofreading was conducted when preparing the final draft, collaborative writing involved extensive “reworking, refining and fine-tuning the content already written" (Elola and Oskoz, 2010, p. 62). Collaborative writers tended to focus more on creating multiple improved versions of earlier drafts in comparison to the individual writers.

Most online collaborative writing platforms allow for additional opportunities for extensive and recursive peer feedback and teacher feedback beyond face-to-face class feedback and summative feedback on final draft submissions. Some research indicates that these features benefit student learning and writing abilities. Regarding peer review, Bradley and Thouësny (2017) observed that recursive feedback practices and multifaceted comments received during online collaborative writing provide opportunities for textual improvement on multiple occasions during the writing process. "Providing and receiving feedback is an enriching activity that promotes joint responsibility…collaborative online writing offers a way of achieving an insight into text from various perspectives, from the partners’ engagement in the writing process and from the joint construction of meaning" (Bradley & Thouësny, 2017, p. 81).

In a study investigating teacher feedback in online collaborative writing environments, Alvarez, Espasa & Guasch (2012) maintained that online collaborative writing assignments facilitate the learning process as long as teachers provide a reasonable amount of corrective and elaborative feedback. The feedback in their study included “suggestions which allowed the students to progress in the assignment and improve the text they were revising”; and therefore, a “proactive reaction by the students was produced in response to feedback. This happened when they received messages questioning their work, but also suggesting changes in addition to the correction” (Alvarez, Espasa & Guasch, 2012, p. 398). This study seems to support the claim that if students and teachers have the ability and motivation to employ effective feedback practices, online collaborative writing platforms can facilitate more comprehensive and higher-quality feedback.

Problematic Issues with Online Collaborative Writing

Although online collaborative writing has certain affordances, there are ongoing issues regarding the implementation and outcomes in ESL/EFL education. Nykopp, Marttunen and Erkens (2018) identified technical problems as a common issue that negatively affected students' motivation and performance when completing online collaborative writing tasks: “technical problems, particularly in synchronous computer mediating communication, can decrease the number of constructive messages and may affect task outcome. It is noteworthy that the present groups with high-level essays did not report technical problems at all” (p. 2). Beyond these types of technical problems, other factors that may affect the outcomes of online collaborative writing include unequal distribution of work, lack of social interactions, low impact on linguistic accuracy and text quality, and inconsistent quality of peer and teacher feedback.

Online collaborative writing suffers from some of the same problems as any type of group work or group project: unequal distribution of work and fluctuation in the amount and quality of contributions. Collaborative writing can be a challenging and demanding task for groups in which students have varying degrees of language proficiency and writing skills. These group dynamics may lead to an unequal distribution of work in which students at higher proficiency and skill levels are assigned larger and more complex parts of a writing task (Nykopp, Marttunen & Erkens, 2018). Bradley and Thouësny (2017) observed that students in their study primarily engaged in “parallel collaboration, where although working on the same text they were not assuming equal responsibility; and only on rare occasions were the students engaged in joint collaboration, assuming equal responsibility for the text” (p. 81). Issues such as these can also lead to students questioning the fairness of assessment related to individual contributions and a group's final product; however, instructors can potentially mitigate this problem by using learning analytics to track individual contributions to a collaboratively produced text.

Another problematic issue is that collaborative writing platforms may limit social interaction and thus lower the total amount and frequency of student contributions in the forms of discussions, comments, annotations and other forms of feedback. According to Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems (2003), “this lack of social interaction is due to the assumption that social interaction will automatically occur because the environment permits it and because the social interaction which is stimulated is usually restricted to the cognitive aspects of learning" (p. 349). They argue that social interactions are often ignored or forgotten when designing tasks, but these social interactions are as important as the cognitive aspects as they lead to "affiliation, impression formation, building social relationships and, ultimately, the development of a healthy community of learning” (p. 349). In response to some of these issues, Zhang (2019) suggested that unbalanced learner engagement "is often associated with unequal contribution to content elicitation” and teachers need to utilize pre-task modeling and informed task design in the implementation of collaborative writing to actively encourage balanced engagement (p. 28). Kreijns, Kirschner and Jochems (2003) argue that human beings need more than “environments that solely support and guide social interaction towards critical thinking, argumentation, or socially constructing meaning” and suggest designing “environments aimed at providing non-task contexts that allow social, off-task communication (e.g. casual communication) and that facilitate and increase the number of impromptu encounters in task and non-task contexts through the inclusion of persistent presence and awareness through time and space of the other members of the distributed learning group” (p. 349). In any case, these issues are most likely not being fully addressed in the current popular platforms for online collaborative writing.

There have also been conflicting reports on how online collaborative writing impacts linguistic accuracy and overall text quality. Zhang (2019) found no significant difference in linguistic accuracy or text quality between collaborative writers and individual writers, which contradicted previous research by Storch (2001) and Li and Zhu (2017) that found collaborative writers produced more accurate language (Storch, 2001) and higher quality texts (Li & Zhu, 2017). Tai (2016) argued that grammar and vocabulary were less likely to be improved as they received less attention than content and organization during the online collaborative writing process and that this was due to the fact that “linguistic knowledge including grammatical rules and vocabulary usage were probably the most problematic dimensions to comprehend” for students (p. 130). Nykopp, Martunnen & Erkens (2018) warn that many collaborative writing tasks only require shallow information processing between contributors, which may lead to negative impacts on text quality. It seems difficult to determine to what extent online collaborative writing affects or does not affect linguistic accuracy and text quality based on these contradictory findings.

Another aspect that may negatively affect learning in an online collaborative writing environment is the comprehensiveness and quality of peer and instructor feedback being provided through the platforms. Bradley & Thouësny (2017) found that students intervened to provide metalinguistic feedback and correct answers on their peers’ work. Although students were able to make changes based on this feedback, they often did not notify their peers, interactions or discussions regarding the content and changes were limited, and use of both implicit and explicit feedback were limited as well. Bradley & Thouësny (2017) also observed that “peers did not offer feedback ranging from implicit to explicit” (p. 81). Regarding teacher feedback, Alvarez, Espasa & Guasch (2012) observed that “when the feedback message was only corrective or simply expressed the teacher’s opinion, it did not seem to generate student responses other than confirmation” and that only suggestions and demands which require student discussion during the collaborative writing process lead to higher quality revision (p. 398). Although the overall quality and comprehensiveness of feedback may still be largely dependent on the ability and motivation of the student or teacher providing the feedback, it may be possible for online collaborative writing platforms to facilitate better feedback practices if both students and teachers are properly trained in general feedback practices and the use of a particular educational technology.

Other research has indicated that other forms of in-person or written communication may be more effective for communication, collaboration and feedback than online collaborative writing tasks. In a study comparing the effects of teacher feedback through oral conferencing and collaborative writing, Nosratinia and Nikpanjeh (2019) reported “the results of an independent samples ttest and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) revealed that the ability of EFL learners’ writing was more affected by applying oral conferencing rather than collaborative writing tasks” (p. 24). The authors claim that students are more capable of identifying their own errors, making plans, conducting self-evaluation, and improving both speaking and writing skills through oral conferencing if the conferencing includes “offering encouragement, making specific suggestions, establishing a positive rapport, and having abilities and strategies, such as appropriate interaction, effective monitoring, and supportive evaluation” (Nosratinia and Nikpanjeh, 2019, p. 24). Nykopp, Mattunen & Erkens (2018) posited that online collaborative writing feedback may be weaker in some respects than other forms of educational interactions because it may not be as immediate, and students may be more responsive to both verbal and nonverbal features of face-to-face communication when receiving feedback.


Implementing online collaborative writing in ESL/EFL education responds to current trends in academia and the professional world, and there are several models that can be adopted based on the nature of the collaboration and the genre of the writing. Online collaborative writing provides several affordances in education such as ubiquitous participation, flexibility in how participants share information and develop their writing, and additional opportunities for recursive feedback from both peers and teachers. Nevertheless, these affordances do not negate several of the problematic issues in implementing online collaborative writing, including technical problems, unequal distribution of work, inconsistent contribution quantity and quality, lack of social interactions, low impact on linguistic accuracy and overall text quality, and limited or ineffective peer and teacher feedback practices. As suggested by some of the authors cited in this literature review, online collaborative writing platforms need to be designed to mitigate some of these problems, and teachers need to design tasks specifically structured to support online collaborative writing and adopt appropriate feedback practices in order to avoid the other problems and truly take advantage of the potential affordances.


Alvarez, I., Espasa, A., & Guasch, T. (2012). The value of feedback in improving collaborative writing assignments in an online learning environment. Studies in Higher Education, 37(4), 387-400.

Authorea. (2017, November 10). A quick introduction to Authorea [Video file]. Retrieved from

Bradley, L., & Thouësny, S. (2017). Students’ collaborative peer reviewing in an online writing environment. Themes in Science & Technology Education, 10(2), 69-83.

Elola, I., & Oskoz, A. (2010). Collaborative writing: Fostering foreign language and writing conventions development. Language Learning & Technology, 14(3), 51-71.

Gimenez, J., & Thondhlana, J. (2012). Collaborative writing in engineering: Perspectives from research and implications for undergraduate education. European Journal of Engineering Education, 37(5), 471-487.

Gregg Learning. (2018, December 3). Collaborative Business Writing Model [Video file]. Retrieved from

Guasch, T., Espasa, A., Alvarez, I. M., & Kirschner, P. A. (2013). Effects of feedback on collaborative writing in an online learning environment. Distance Education, 34(3), 324-338.

Janssen, J., Erkens, G., Kirschner, P. A., & Kanselaar, G. (2012). Task-related and social regulation during online collaborative learning. Metacognition Learning, 7, 25-43.

Last, S. (2019). Technical Writing Essentials: Introduction to Professional Communications in the Technical Fields. British Columbia, Canada: University of Victoria.

Li, M., & Zhu, W. (2017). Good or bad collaborative wiki writing: Exploring links between group interactions and writing products. Journal of Second Language Writing, 35, 38–53.

Limbu, L., & Markauskaite, L. (2014). How do learners experience joint writing: University students’ conceptions of online collaborative writing tasks and environments. Computers & Education, 82, 393-408.

Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. A., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior, 19(3), 335-353.

Martinez-Sáez, A., Corral-Esteban, A., & Vinagre-Laranjeira, M. (2018). Exploring virtual collaborative writing in the EFL classroom. In P. Taalas, J. Jalkanen, L. Bradley, & S. Thouësny (Eds.), Future-proof CALL: language learning as exploration and encounters – short papers from EUROCALL 2018 (pp. 188-192). UK:

Nosratinia, M., & Nikpanjeh, N. (2019). Promoting foreign language learners’ writing: Comparing the impact of oral conferencing and collaborative writing. Journal of English Education, 7(2), 17-26.

Nykopp, M., Marttunen, M., & Erkens, G. (2015). Coordinating collaborative writing in an online environment. Journal of Computing in Higher, 2018, 1-21. doi:10.1007/s12528-018-9203-3

Overleaf. (2016, January 11). An Introduction to Overleaf [Video file]. Retrieved from

Perkel, J. M. (2014). Scientific writing: The online cooperative: Collaborative browser-based tools aim to change the way researchers write and publish their papers. Nature, 514, 127-128.

Storch, N. (2001). How collaborative is pair work? ESL tertiary students composing in pairs. Language Teaching Research, 5(1), 29–53.

Tai, H. (2016). Effects of collaborative online learning on EFL learners’ writing performance and self-efficacy. English Language Teaching, 9(5), 119-133.

UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center. (2019). Group Writing. Retrieved from

Zhang, M. (2019). Towards a quantitative model of understanding the dynamics of collaboration in collaborative writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 45, 16-30.