Skip to content ↓

December 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Using Online Collaborative Writing to Illustrate Research Skills

Richard Prasad is an assistant professor at Hanyang Univivity in Seoul, South Korea.


In the Korean tertiary context, English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instruction has gradually shifted from a Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) focus towards the instruction of academic skills and the development of proficiencies in these areas, with the objective of enabling learners to meet the discourse expectations of their fields. This emphasis on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) allows greater opportunities to incorporate 21st-century skills into traditional instruction through the use of online applications that facilitate greater communication, collaboration and critical thinking. This article discusses strategies and avenues for utilizing common online applications in a process of collaborative writing that demonstrates both a target essay format and how to incorporate research in appropriate formats expected in particular disciplines.

EFL and EAP classrooms have utilized process writing methods to create final products, and collaborative writing tasks, including shared production, have gained currency (Nykopp et. al, 2018). In my specific teaching context, we are asked to instruct English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) classes that require the production of a short researched academic “problem-solution” essay, including demonstrating research skills and proper sourcing practices and format. It should be noted here that this course and essay format is intended to provide students an opportunity to discuss content in their fields, which can be applied and extended in their studies, and the basis of this course is not content, but skills instruction and gaining proficiency – hence the EGAP label. I sought to utilize widely available online tools to set up, scaffold and facilitate peer groups in creating a short researched essay based on this example topic. This sequence of activities was set up as a module on a Learning Management System LMS called Canvas, which allowed the use of Google Docs for small-group collaboration (Watanabe-Crockett, 2017).  Another online application, Socrative, which is often used as an assessment tool, can also be used to facilitate feedback and allow whole-class discussion (Awedh, 2014), in this case utilized at different stages of the writing process.

The basis for this demonstration was an article from a mainstream media source (the New York Times, see Apendix) on teenagers and sleep, selected because of its relevance, adaptability to the target essay format and the inclusion of a variety of sources linked directly from the article. The topic lent itself towards the desired essay format, and the initial newspaper article could be analyzed on that basis. The broad topic was introduced to the whole class, and sources (links and handouts) and instructions were provided in the module on the LMS. Within smaller peer groups I employed a jigsaw reading process where I assigned responsibility for sources individually, to ensure that all group members contributed a part of the information needed to construct an essay (Esnawy, 2016). It was necessary to adapt the content of each source because of time constraints, and this involved selecting a few key passages from each source. Limiting the content in this way took away from the critical reading aspect of research, but provided a focus for the type of information needed to create an essay on this particular topic.  

Individual group members were asked to use these passages from their assigned source to select quotes and paraphrase key ideas, and share these with their groups – this was done through collaborations set up on Google Docs through the Canvas LMS prior to class meetings ("Using Canvas Groups and Other Collaboration Tools: Student Guides and Resources", 2019). The framework for this asked individual members to indicate what they felt were key ideas from the selected passages as well as why these were important and how they could use this information –  this was done in chart format to illustrate the steps in assessing how to use research. When communicating these ideas in person, groups were asked to agree on which key points they wanted to use, and in what order, to construct and support a “problem” paragraph, and which points could be used in a paragraph detailing a “solution”. Based on this discussion, a preliminary thesis statement was created and shared through Socrative, in order to reinforce models of writing these clearly and effectively – these were made visible to the entire class for peer review and feedback.

From these thesis statement, an outline for the “problem” and “solution” paragraphs were created through Google Docs – here students were asked to agree on the order of supporting ideas and how information used from the sources would be incorporated, using both quotes and paraphrases. Here I asked groups to divide themselves to create outlines for each paragraph and cross-review. Proper source format (in-text citations and reference list) was required in the Google Docs paragraph outlines, to reinforce this as an integral academic writing skill. These paragraph outlines were shared and critiqued between groups. As an extension, groups were asked to create and source a counter-argument and refutation, again by selecting ideas from the sources provided.

The final step was creating introductory and concluding paragraph outlines, done using Socrative for a whole-class review – in the sequence of process-writing I use, I have found that creating a preliminary thesis and outlining the body paragraphs first makes the first and last paragraphs easier. Here again, groups were asked to provide ideas for components of these paragraphs (in the introduction: initial hooks and background information on the topic; for the concluding paragraph: restatement of the topic, thesis, review of main ideas and final thought.) These ideas were shared by each group through the Socrative application, and made public to the whole class to allow class members to compare how different groups approached assembling these paragraphs.

In summary, this sequence described above was intended to help students collaboratively outline an essay, while evaluating information from a range of sources and deciding how this information would be used. The selection of this topic and sources was based on the accessibility of the topic and content. The specific goals of this activity, outlining a “problem-solution” essay with a counter-argument paragraph, and the emphasis on showing where and how information from sources would be used, were based on requirements of the course of instruction. The utilization of Google Docs and Socrative in the group collaboration and open-class review was intended as an extension of the traditional process-writing approach. For the purposes of this class, the objective is for students to take what they learned on using research to organize, connect and develop ideas and apply this to topics based on their own areas of study in order to discuss and provide an opinion on an aspect they are interested in. The sequence of steps and the collaborative nature of developing essay content for the example topic is intended to help learners engage with their own fields independently, which ideally is the ultimate goal of EAP instruction.



Awedh, M., Mueen, A., Zafar, B., & Manzoor, U. (2014). Using Socrative and Smartphones for the support of collaborative learning. International Journal On Integrating Technology In Education3(4), 17-24. doi: 10.5121/ijite.2014.3402

Esnawy, S. (2016). EFL/EAP Reading and Research Essay Writing Using Jigsaw. Procedia – Social And Behavioral Sciences232, 98-101. Doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.10.033

Nykopp, M., Marttunen, M., & Erkens, G. (2018). Coordinating collaborative writing in an online environment. Journal Of Computing In Higher Education31(3), 536-556. doi: 10.1007/s12528-018-9203-3

 Using Canvas Groups and Other Collaboration Tools: Student Guides and Resources. (2019). Retrieved 4 November 2019, from

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (3 March 2017). Using Online Collaboration Tools to Engage Students in Teamwork. Retrieved 4 November 2019, from




Please check the Practical uses of Technology in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

  • Content-based Instruction: Application of Knowledge of Manual Camera Settings
    Ed Topliffe, South Korea

  • An Aggregated Automated Anonymized Assignment Collection (A4C) System for Translation Classes
    Daniel Svoboda, South Korea

  • Using Online Collaborative Writing to Illustrate Research Skills
    Richard Prasad, South Korea