Do online collaborative activities foster autonomy on second language reading and writing?

Dr. María Luisa Carrió-Pastor
Senior lecturer
Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, Spain



In this paper, my main objective is to analyse if the use of the online collaborative activities improves learners’ autonomy on second language reading and writing. My purpose is twofold, to study if students improve reading and writing skills in the acquisition of a second language (English) with online collaborative activities and if these activities foster students’ autonomy. The activities proposed to one group of students in this research were done using Google docs. The results shown that the students with collaborative activities acted in a more autonomous way as the interactions among students or with the teacher were less frequent.


Technology has changed the way language learners interact in an international environment, so that now they are able to communicate anytime and anywhere all around the world. This fact may have a consequence that is being noticed by researchers (Jones and Issroff, 2005; Strijbos and Fischer, 2007; Liaw, Chen and Huang, 2008; Kessler, Bikowski and Boggs, 2012), the use of collaborative tasks to improve the second language proficiency of some international languages such as English.

In this vein, the Internet is a very useful source of information for second language students, as it can also be used to practise reading and writing (Lamy & Hampel, 2007; Thorne & Black, 2007). More precisely, some online collaborative platforms such as Google docs allow students to work in a cooperative way. Collaborative learning improves the motivation and the performance of second language learners, as stated by Warschauer (1997), Carrió Pastor (2007, 2008), Humphris, (2010), Lotherington & Jenson (2011) and Sormunen, Tanni & Heinström (2013) but there are no studies about learner autonomy.

In this research, my purpose was twofold, to find out if students improved their reading and writing skills in the acquisition of a second language (English) with online collaborative activities and to discern if collaborative learning fosters students’ autonomy. The first objective set in this study was to test if collaborative activities were effective for acquiring reading and writing skills and the second objective was to determine if collaborative activities foster autonomy.

Material and method

In the first step of this research, two groups of forty students who were enrolled in a B1 English course, which is an optional subject in an engineering degree at Universitat Politècnica de València, were selected. One of them was the control group, i.e., no collaborative tasks were used to teach English, and the other one was the experimental group, i.e., students were involved in collaborative activities. This research was carried out in the first semester of the academic year 2014-15.

The second step of this study was to design assignments and exercises for the experimental group that were adapted to Google docs and could be done collaboratively by students. Another set of assignments and exercises i.e., activities that were not involved in collaborative learning, was also designed for the control group. After that, two questionnaires (a pre-test and a post-test) were also designed to identify the improvement of the reading and writing skills of both groups.

In the third step, students did the pre-test and the writing and reading comprehension exercises and assignments. The exercises and assignments done by the control group were compared with the online collaborative writing and reading activities done by the experimental group with the purpose of studying the improvement in language proficiency of both groups. The experimental group communicated through a chat and e-mails to produce texts collaboratively meanwhile, the teachers tutorized the students and participated in the chats of the different groups included in the survey. The control group were also given the possibility to use a chat and e-mails to communicate through the online platform used at the university. Figure 1 illustrates the messages of the platform used in the study:


Figure 1. Examples of the Sakai platform used in the study.

Finally, the chats and e-mails of the control and experimental groups were analysed to study and compare the autonomy of both groups of students. The quantity of chats and the questions asked by students were taken into account to identify the autonomy of groups. The feedback and participation in the forum was analysed and compared with the same data obtained from a group of students who were not taught with collaborative activities. The results were analysed and the results drawn.


The results of the research were divided into the different parts of the objectives of this study. On the one hand, the results of the pre-test and post-test were identified to measure second language acquisition. On the other hand, the results of the chats and e-mails of the control and experimental groups were also counted and analysed to determine the autonomy of the groups. In Table 1, it can be seen the percentage of students who passed the tests of the pre-tests and of the post-tests of both groups:


Table 1. Results of the pre-test and post-test of second language acquisition.

As can be observed, there was a higher percentage of students who passed the post-tests than the pre-tests. This was an expected result given that they were instructed during a period and improved their language proficiency. It can also be seen that there is not an important difference between the two groups. In this sense, students who did collaborative activities improved equally their English proficiency; this means that the different methodology was not important in the acquisition of reading and writing skills.

The results of the chats and interaction among students and between the teacher and the students were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively. In Table 2, the results of the messages sent during one semester using the chat and e-mails are shown:

Carrio_pastor_Table_2 Table 2. Results of the messages sent by the two groups.

The results obtained after the analysis of the messages showed that the experimental group sent more questions in the chat and e-mails to interact with the teacher or their partners.

After a qualitative analysis of the results, it was noticed that 100% of the messages sent by the control group and 80% of the messages sent by the experimental group were questions related to the exams, the exercises, etc. of the subject, i.e., they were sent because the students did not feel confident enough. Given the amount of messages sent, it can be observed that the experimental group felt less confident in the subject and asked many questions to be sure about how to do the tasks, the exams, etc. Some examples are shown above:

  • Enric xx  (06-nov-2014 15:47 CEST) fine
  • Enric xx  (06-nov-2014 15:47 CEST) tell when you add me
  • Javier xx  (06-nov-2014 15:48 CEST) Okey, thanks. Now you can write on it
  • Javier xx  (06-nov-2014 15:48 CEST) mm we just have talked about what are we going to do
  • Enric xx  (06-nov-2014 15:49 CEST) we have no idea how to start
  • Javier xx  (06-nov-2014 15:50 CEST) So, we are going to do the components, manufacturing techniques. AND YOU HAVE TO DO THE INTRODUCTION AND THE components, manufacturing techniques


The results showed that the students who did collaborative activities did not act in an autonomous way, as the interactions among students or with the teacher or their partners were more frequent. In this sense, it was noticed, after the analysis of the results, that students improved their English proficiency equally in the control group and in the experimental group.

Nevertheless, some differences were observed in the interactions sent. It seems that students who were involved in collaborative learning were less autonomous, as they sent many questions about the tasks to their partners and to the teachers. I believe this may be caused due to the nature of collaborative activities, which are done by students and the teacher does not participate actively in the process. Finally, two aspects that may be highlighted from the results are that tasks done collaboratively should include detailed instructions and that teachers should participate actively to solve doubts.


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