Joint construction in academic writing: an exploration of collaborative learning in an open and distance university

Donnarumma, David and Shrestha, Prithvi (2011). Joint construction in academic writing: an exploration of collaborative learning in an open and distance university. In: European Association for Teachers of Academic Writing Conference, 29 Jun - 1 Jul 2011, University of Limerick.



Collaborative learning is associated with Vygotskian socio-cultural theory of learning (Vygotsky, 1978) which considers learning as socially mediated (Wells, 2007). This learning approach is well documented in education literature (Biggs, 1999; Dillenbourg, 1999). The concept of collaborative learning has also been applied to academic literacy development through literacy pedagogies such as the Teaching and Learning Cycle (e.g., Rothery, 1996). Collaborative learning is used in the joint construction stage of the cycle, and has been successful in making explicit to students the features of written texts and increasing their understanding of how these texts are organized (Hyland, 2007). This stage in the cycle has been applied to face-to-face contexts because students and tutor are able to collaboratively work on the same text. However, research on its application to academic writing development in open and distance learning is relatively new.

This exploratory study examines how this stage can work in the context of an English for academic purposes course in an open and distance university. The data for this study consists of (1) online student discussion threads; (2) student assignments; and (3) tutor feedback. The data was analysed by employing a discourse analysis approach examining how the online interaction scaffolded students to produce their written assignments. The preliminary results showed that the students went through the three phases of Joint Construction (Bridging, Text Negotiation and Review) albeit different to a face-to-face context and performed well in their assignments. We argue that a well-designed online Joint Construction stage may enhance student writing performance.

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