Online collaborative writing: testimony of a wiki project and recommendations


This article reports on the use of a wiki that was embedded into a course in English for Academic Purposes (EAP). It explains why a wiki platform was embedded into the course design, how the preparatory work (scaffolding) fed into writing tasks, and how students interacted with each other using this writing tool. The use of a wiki to enhance students’ experiences was evaluated through student questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and tutor interviews. The results indicate that students had varying degrees of success in engaging with the wiki, and that some tutors were more comfortable than others with the validity of the wiki platform for critical writing tasks. A recommendation emerging from this study is that wider use of online writing components within other EAP courses could be beneficial.


Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) have become an integral part of university courses in UK higher education (Jones and Shao, 2011).  We recently undertook a study of students’ use of wikis within the VLE on a course in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) at Kingston University. Our objective was to invite students to co-produce wiki entries, in the manner of Wikipedia, on topics relevant to their study of English for Academic Purposes. We posed the following question about the students’ wiki generation tasks: were students engaged through the collaborative creation of wiki entries? We investigated whether using such an online collaborative tool would help students think and write more critically.

We wrestled with university rhetoric implying that young ‘digital native’ students would automatically engage and have an innately effective relationship with any form of media (Prenksy 2001).  Even ‘digital wisdom’ seemed a lot to assume in the context of our disparate student intake, and we were ready to examine Prensky’s claim that ‘today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach’ (2001). In this article, Veletsianos’ (2010) term ‘emerging technologies’ is used to refer to web 2.0 tools, such as blogs and wikis. The context of teaching English for Academic Purposes can be viewed as being geared towards the social context of language learning, with students as active agents (Hafner and Miller, 2006).  We wished to explore Schweinhorst’s claim that technology can play an important role in the participation of learners (2007). We wanted to investigate whether project-based peer learning could promote learner autonomy and enhance students’ motivation (Warschauer, Schetzer, and Meloni, 2000). In addition, we were interested in possible links between students’ use of information technologies and social media (Ellis and Goodyear, 2010; Jones and Shao 2011).

Course design

For our study, the participants consisted of non-native English language users studying at undergraduate level, at Kingston University.  The participants were on an EAP course to improve their ability to write critically and accurately, and we wanted to provide a safe, social environment for them to reflect, think critically, and write accurately (Perkins 2006).  We drew upon constructivist theory, a philosophy of learning that centralises the learner as ‘active processor of information’ (Rovai, 2003). Constructivists find that self-motivated, active learning not only produces deep-rooted knowledge, but also gives learners a structure to access, connect with, and build on what they know. Broadly influenced by Smith’s constructivist approach to pragmatic curriculum development, we categorised the processes that occur in our classes, and how we could enhance and evaluate these (Smith, 1996, 2000). We found Wiggins’ backwards design model (1995) useful to outline our course goals, reflecting skills students would need in wider university life. We explored technologies to support learning, drawing on Garrison and Kanuka (2004). By emphasising collaborative approaches through constructivist learning, we aimed to improve the students’ skill at each stage of the writing process. Through interactive, collaborative processing of information in the brainstorming, planning and drafting stages, it was hoped that students would learn to refine their arguments and review the structure of texts. For about 40% of students, this course was non-credit bearing, which presented a challenge in terms of student engagement and motivation. We used modular activities with regular formative assessment tasks allowing for feedback. We also provided regular feedback on students’ individual reading, writing and listening.

Collaborative writing

Styles of learning change over time within cultures and disciplines, but the last decades have been notable for a ‘paradigm shift’ (Barr and Tag, 1995) towards constructivist techniques in higher education.  We see less teaching to the test and more ‘construction of knowledge through active learning, which entails construction instead of instruction, and learner-centred instead of teacher-centred instruction’ (Montero-Fleta et al., 2011, p. 622). This is also seen in the popularity of task-based learning, based on the completion of an authentic task. This phenomenon runs parallel to a rise in use of technology in education and a more connected, social approach to learning. For a detailed overview, Bonk and Cunningham (1998) supply a thorough breakdown of theoretical perspectives on collaborative learning tools, focussing on learner-centred, constructivist and socio-cultural components. For our study, we wanted to promote the authenticity of the communicative purpose for students, and to ensure the functional value of classes (Bhatia 1993).  Students chose real life case studies, and applied the relevant language register, structure and genre as well as conceptual understanding necessary for improving the writing process (Kreijns et al. 2003). We used the ‘diagnostic character’ (Perkins, 2006) of our constructivist toolkit to find active, social and creative ways which could truly embed this knowledge, at the same time allowing tutors a continuous evaluation of outcomes, in which assessment is a ‘by product’ (Stenhouse 1975, p. 95). Supporting learners’ critical thinking in an EAP context is not a straightforward task. We wanted our students to be confident implementing critical thinking both face-to-face, and through digital media. As Tapscott argues, today’s students are ‘forcing a change in the model of pedagogy, from a teacher-focused approach based on instruction to a student-focused model based on collaboration’ (2009). The developmental process of critical thinking and writing helps students structure their voice, and finding a writer’s identity is crucial for students to express themselves at a distance, (Haythornthwaite et al. 2007). It is this area of constructivist learning – preparation, critical thought and analysis – which we aimed to transpose from a classroom setting to online collaborative tasks. 

Collaborative writing online

Krejins et al. (2003) maintain that an often neglected necessity of collaborative learning is purely social interaction: face-to-face classroom interaction cannot be assumed to transfer directly into an online environment in the same way that social interaction between students cannot be expected to flourish in every classroom setting (Kwon et al. 2006; Ng’ambi, 2013).

Why a wiki?

The Blackboard content management system (CMS) at Kingston University offers a variety of ways for tutors to integrate online learning environments into their courses. Wikis have been described as some of the most popular emerging technologies (Leslie and Landon, 2008), but as Ruslan and Ramanau’s 2008 survey indicates, we found a gap in published work on the effectiveness and impact especially in comparing emerging technology tools or proving the effectiveness of any one tool (in their case, a wiki). Wanting to approach this task inclusively, we also noted that even higher education students who spend a considerable amount of time online, spend a surprisingly little amount of that time using wikis, blogs or virtual worlds (Jones and Cross, 2009). Trentin (2008) uses three years of data to create an evaluation framework for wiki collaboration, giving real insight into how complicated it can be to evaluate and assess written contributions.  Wheeler et al. (2008) aim to assess the learning that comes from student-generated wikis, excellently summarising the developing discourse of ‘the architecture of participation’. Kuteeva’s account of using a wiki to build awareness of the writer/reader relationship notes that using the wiki for writing activities made students pay close attention to grammatical correctness and structural coherence, with 60% of the students reporting that writing on the wiki made them consider their audience (Kuteeva, 2010). Turgut (2009) provides a detailed account of integrating structured activities into an undergraduate writing course using PBwiki ( in Turkey, within which students wrote and edited each other’s entries. Patchy responses to interviews provided inconclusive results from students, but the tutor observed improved writing skills, more effective critical peer feedback, and simply more motivation within the group doing the wiki exercise. It was felt the wiki provided the maximum variety of opportunities for ‘elaboration, questioning, rehearsal, and elicitation’ within the writing process (Kreijins et al. 2003).

The study’s rationale

Our study was motivated by an interest in student retention (completion of the course), and in students’ engagement on an in-sessional EAP course consisting of 3 levels, 88 students and 33 different nationalities. The course attracts a diverse range of students from across the entire university at all levels, from undergraduate to doctoral studies. The need to maintain student engagement and retention was paramount, whilst re-designing the content for two reasons. First, the courses had just become non-credit bearing and voluntary, which meant student engagement needed to withstand demands of coursework and preparation for their other, compulsory, modules, thus reducing drop-out rates and falling retention. Students on an ERASMUS programme were the only students who required credits from the course when returning to their home institution. This meant that other students were not compelled to complete the course by extrinsic motivation. Secondly, students were coming together from all parts of the university, across campuses with the common denominator that they were non-native speakers of English. It was therefore hoped that asking students to co-produce wiki entries would provide a platform for engaging with each other beyond the classroom, possibly creating a sense of continuing community online.

Methodology: addressing identified potential problems

Particular themes emerge from literature discussing aspects of blended learning projects where problems arose in the use of wikis. We wanted to identify key features of previous courses that were seen as barriers to effective use of the chosen technology, and then address these in our course design.

1. Student experiences of wikis

We discovered that our participants were not all familiar with using wikis (Ramanau et al. 2009). Care was taken not to make assumptions about their knowledge of and experience with technologies. We created a practical lesson with substantial scaffolding, which introduced all students to the wiki they would be using, and gave an example wiki with practice tasks.

2. Technical apprehensions

We were aware that students might encounter technical difficulties in creating and editing wiki pages (Ramanau et al., 2009; Montero-Fleta et al., 2011; Kuteeva, 2011). We provided learners with a step-by-step instructional approach to accessing, creating and manipulating a wiki. Technical support was available, the tutors provided a ‘watch and learn’ example, and there was repeated in-class simulated practice. In order to foster a sense of community, a discussion board was set up and students were asked to contribute a short self-introduction for others to read and respond to. Working groups were chosen freely, and adjusted where necessary.

3. Student engagement

Although most students are familiar with face-to-face collaborative writing tasks, working online together via a wiki can create uncertainty. According to Ramanau et al. (2009) concerns can include ‘uncertainty about the nature of learning activities; difficulties with the structure of learning space; need for more proactive interaction in groups, perceived benefits of learning through the wiki, and issues of group leadership’. Kuteeva (2011) suggests that if tasks are made an integral part of assessment requirements, they are more likely to be completed. Furthermore, Cole (2008) acknowledges the need to address student engagement in practical terms. She recommends firmly embedding wiki tasks in course assessment through short formative tasks requiring online participation. The issues of assessment and credit are of particular concern for us, as our Institution has moved towards non-credit bearing language courses for most students. We tried to make assessment requirements clear (Kuteeva, 2011), and we identified task types for students within their wiki use in terms of genre and style (academic report or argument essay paragraphs). Examples and specific replica of these writing styles and genres were used for general writing practice. We felt the integration of small items of assessment would show clear task requirements and feedback for students not taking the course for credit. By monitoring the participation of students as they co-produced wiki entries and providing weekly comments within the wiki, tutors hoped that students would be fully supported throughout the writing process. Students were given three weeks after the initial introduction of each topic in which to work together to produce wiki entries. During the first two weeks, they also collaborated on a presentation about the topic, which they delivered to the rest of the class.


As noted above, we investigated whether students were engaged through the collaborative creation of wiki entries.  We also explored whether they had been sufficiently prepared and supported, and considered whether wikis enhanced their writing in a second language.  Data was collected via a questionnaire that invited students to compare their previous experiences of learning technologies with their co-construction of wiki entries. Focus groups were held with all three levels of students at the end of the course, and a group discussion was held with tutors documenting their assessment of group collaboration and writing outcomes.


Regarding the students’ preparation for wiki work in terms of technical functionality and task requirements, two observations are clear. First, language ability was a significant criterion for success, and for engagement with the course. Secondly, if students missed even one of the first few scaffolding classes, retention was hampered by the need to catch up. Both tutors and students in high language ability classes reported clear levels of satisfaction with the scaffolding process. Students in lower language ability groups expressed anxiety about sharing and deciding upon ideas together, both in the initial stages and at later stages. In the lowest language ability class the tutor noted that some students were reticent.


A further division was noted between less verbally confident students, and those who, although in a lower level, were able to communicate confidently. In classes for students of high language ability, when tutors intervened to give the shyer students the chance to be ‘scribes’ in class, they became more participatory not just in transcribing others’ thoughts, but also in adding their own. Tutors reported that it was essential that groups were monitored closely to ensure members discussed and took notes effectively together from the beginning. To begin with, students in high language ability classes were more confident and enthusiastic about in-class collaboration and task preparation. In the three high level groups, students’ discussion was sufficient for effective face-to-face engagement, and a consolidation of group dynamics. In the lower level group, class discussion did not always engender such positive group dynamics. Some individuals seemed to be overpowered by verbally confident peers in group discussions. It was also reported that during the process of collaborative writing outside the class, less confident students preferred to work alone initially, then contact the tutor to receive feedback, before contributing to the group and adding to a wiki entry. This meant that the tutor of the lower level felt that the workload was heavy in terms of giving support. This aligns with Perkins’ acknowledgement that a certain level of language ability is necessary to tap into a students’ ‘tacit knowledge,’ particularly in constructivist learning (Perkins 2006). It is not only the requirement of language knowledge (competence), but also confidence in production (performance) (Chomsky, 1965) that is relied upon in such collaborative working among non-native speakers. Although not the focus of our study, cultural familiarity with this learning activity is likely to present further layers of complexity. Despite initial concern by tutors, student feedback shows that 75% of students at every level felt comfortable working with their group after a few weeks. A significant number of comments related to the setting up of the wiki tasks and enjoyment of face-to-face interaction before continuing wiki writing online. This reflects the importance of a sense of group identity (Krejins et al., 2003; Kwon et al. 2006). All levels of students conveyed satisfaction with receiving regular feedback throughout the collaborative writing process both online and in the classroom. Owing to their online presence, tutors reported responding to emails from students via the VLE, adding comments to wikis during the process, as well as the usual informal feedback in class and formalised version on submission of formative assessment tasks. Some students commented that this was a change from other courses at university, where feedback was often sought out, or largely received after summative assessments. The availability of tutors online and a ‘friendly approach’ was reported as being as important as formalised feedback structures. One student gave ‘teacher feedback’ as the overriding benefit of the tasks. Students particularly expressed appreciation for ‘personal feedback online’ and ‘online comments on progress’.

Wiki writing

Writing collaboratively online made the writing process more explicit to students. If they did not discuss how their writing would be structured, they would not have been able to fulfil the task requirements. Although the positive feedback on the group tasks for students was the resulting online interaction with their groups, this was not exclusively via a wiki. They also enjoyed the chance to share ideas via Facebook, email and Skype and ‘feel part of the group’. This was coupled with a feeling of closer interaction with the tutor, and growing confidence as writers in a second language through a relatively low stakes medium. An online constructivist approach to developing non-native English writing seems to have worked well for planning, but less so for drafting, or revising. The data suggests that students planned the structure of their wiki entries together, then divided up the task to produce text independently. Students reported that they sent their pieces to one student to collate or each sent their contributions to the wiki once completed. Little evidence of revising as a whole group was given by any level of students. The only evidence of review was through tutor feedback to students. This is an important area for future work, especially in terms of guidelines and monitoring of online tasks for non-native speakers of English.


In conclusion, this study has shown that engagement can be enhanced by collaborative wiki writing tasks for students working in a second language. Preparing the students to collaborate online was of primary importance in the efficacy of this group writing project. Tutors provided sound preparation both on using a wiki and in group writing tasks. Both tutors and students reported that this preparation helped to level the playing field for students who knew more or less about wikis, and allayed technological apprehensions. Problems arose where students missed preparatory classes, causing a direct impact on retention in the class and engagement in the writing group. Students appreciated tutor feedback via emails or comments on the wiki throughout the task. More scaffolding or intervention is required at critical stages of the writing process, particularly in ensuring groups peer review and edit their work once they move online. A blended learning approach added value to the course, and was effective in community building.


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nationalities represented on the course


Mapping of learning outcomes to assessment items on wiki tasks.

Learning Outcomes Assessment items (more details to be given in class for each level) 
Demonstrate ability to work collaboratively in a constructive and formative manner.Demonstrate the ability to edit written work for cohesion, task fulfilment and language accuracy and range.Production of well-structured, cohesive paragraphs using effective cohesive devices, showing understanding of academic and professional expectations in terms of appropriate language structures and vocabulary style.
  1. Participation in a wiki. This is a group task, and the assignment will be given a group mark. You will be given details in class telling you how to construct your wiki. Each group will then be responsible for the wiki on that topic. Topics will run for two weeks in class, and an extra week before the wiki is ‘published’ for the rest of the class to contribute. 20% in total.
Demonstrate digital literacy competency by an ability to make use of editing tools and collaborative learning to construct text, and thus show understanding of the importance of the writing process: of sharing ideas through brainstorming and creating a workable plan.Production of well-structured, cohesive paragraphs using appropriate language structures and vocabulary style.Use of effective paraphrasing and summarising skills to reconstruct text using appropriate referencing technique. a)              Brainstorming Section: with notes and a brief plan for your presentation and wiki content.
b)              Two argument paragraphs or two sections of a report: these should be minimum 150 words on an issue related to your topic.
c)              One summary of a reading or audio article used in class from your topic. This should be between 150-200 words. The WIKI will be assessed as a group.
Deliver a well-structured group presentation with appropriate visuals, use of language and relevant, suitable content.Instigate and maintain discussion on both familiar and unfamiliar topics and demonstrate appropriateness of language choice.
  1. Presentation. Each group will give a short presentation (approx. 5 minutes per person) on an issue related to their topic in the second week of their topic. The choice is flexible providing the issue related to your topic. The presentation will be assessed individually. 20%
You will need to show your ability to engage in a discussion in written form: to respond appropriately to an issue or argument with your own support and further development of the point.
  1. Peer review feedback and comment. You will be required to feedback and comment on 2 group WIKIs other than your own. 5%


KLS ENGLISH Online Writing Questionnaire

The purpose of this questionnaire is to gather information from students about the use of blended learning technology used on our KLS English courses. Your participation in this survey will be kept confidential. We very much value any information you can provide in helping us to understand the best way to use educational tools to help the learning process. Your answers are not related to your assessment on this course.   Thank you very much for your participation.

BACKGROUND – What is your nationality? …………………………………
Which class are you attending (please circle)     KLS1     KLS2(Laurel)     KLS2(Rachel)     KLS3
What is your current year of study for your MAIN PROGRAMME? UG1   UG2   UG3     PG Phd
What faculty is your main course in? FASS   SEC   B&L FADA
What country/countries have you studied in before?………………………………………………..
Are you an ERASMUS or STUDY ABROAD student? (Please circle as appropriate).

How many classes have you attended so far: 1 2 3 4 5

QUESTIONS For questions 1-3 please circle one of the following words:     NEVER   SOMETIMES FREQUENTLY

  1. Have you used a computer to type up work for classes before?


  1. Do you use the following social media:– please circle.
    1. facebook    NEVER     SOMETIMES     FREQUENTLY
    2. twitter        NEVER     SOMETIMES     FREQUENTLY
    3. texting         NEVER     SOMETIMES     FREQUENTLY
  2. Have you used any of the following online tools in a class before at any time:

a) Discussion board             NEVER     SOMETIMES   FREQUENTLY b)              Blog/journal            NEVER     SOMETIMES   FREQUENTLY c)              WIKI            NEVER     SOMETIMES   FREQUENTLY d)              Group emails            NEVER     SOMETIMES   FREQUENTLY e)              Produced a webpage               NEVER     SOMETIMES   FREQUENTLY f)               Facebook            NEVER     SOMETIMES   FREQUENTLY

  1. If you have used a tool from question 3, please briefly describe what you did:


  1. The following question relates to the information you received on this KLS English course.

Please rate the following from 1-5   ( 1 = very good     5 = very poor) a)              The general introduction to the course (assessment, classes etc.) 1 2 3 4 5 b)              The introduction to Studyspace 1 2 3 4 5

  1. This question relates to the use of the WIKI in this KLS English course. Please rate the following aspects of preparation for your participation in a WIKI on this course

(1 = Strongly agree,   2 = agree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = disagree, 5 = strongly disagree):

  1. Instructions on how to access and use the WIKI were good.     1   2   3   4   5
  2. The online example of a WIKI was helpful.   1   2   3   4   5
  3. The worksheet on how you should organise the WIKI was helpful.   1   2   3   4   5
  4. The information on how you will receive feedback and be assessed on your participation in the WIKI was sufficient.   1   2   3   4   5
  5. The in-class practice on how to use a wiki (create pages and edit content) was sufficient.   1   2   3   4   5
  6. Do you have any other comments relating to the use of technology in the learning process?


  1. Group Work:Please rate the following from 1-5 (1 = very good, 5 = very poor)
  2. I was happy with the group I worked with.   1   2   3   4   5
  3. I did not feel comfortable participating in my group.   1   2   3   4   5

Participation on a group wiki (adapted from Kuteeva 2011)

  1. Choose four things that you have found positive about using the wiki. Rank them in order of importance and then write 1, 2, 3, 4 next to your choice:
  2. Developing writing in English(…..)
  3. Learning new vocabulary(…..)
  4. Access to others’ work(…..)
  5. Dynamic and easy learning(…..)
  6. Interaction (with classmates)(…..)
  7. Interaction (with teacher)(…..)
  8. Enough time to complete tasks(…..)
  9. Developing tasks in more detail(…..)
  10. Writing in English on the computer(…..)
  11. Learning others’ opinions about our task(…..)
  12. Other (please explain)(…..)

Please circle the following answers:

    1. Do you feel your group is working well online?
      YES       A LITTLE       NO


  1. Do you think writing on a wiki online will help you with your academic writing process?YES       A LITTLE       NO
  1. Do you think in class preparation for writing is more helpful to you than writing on a wiki?
    YES         A LITTLE       NO

Please give any general comments about using a wiki for group writing: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

This is the end of the questionnaire



Example wiki created by students Brainstorming (first page) Created By XXXX   /    Last Modified by XXXX  Group members: XXXXXX Censorship of Media:

  • Radio
  • Newspapers
  • Television
  • Internet

Current situation? (in the UK, US, rest of the world?) Pro-censorship: What are the reasons to implement censorship? Safety and protection (young audiences), social conduct (child-pornography) and probity, anti-piracy, anti-pornography, brings structure, … counter censorship: freedom, limits (threatens free speech and innovation), gives a huge amount of power to the government, difficult to draw a line between protection and suppression, there are work-arounds (bypasses) Who’s responsible for the implementation? Government (if so, what branch), charities, independent bodies,…

Internet Censorship in the UK (second page)  Created By XXXXX

Internet censorship in the United Kingdom The British government published plans to enhance internet censorship in the United Kingdom, which was followed by heated public discussions about the positive and negative effects of not only the new plans but also the effective law. Currently, about 95% of British internet broadband customers are affected by a blacklist, which blocks access to potentially illegal websites and is created by an independent self-regulating body called International Watch Foundation – IWF. (IWF, 2009). Even though it only makes sense to enforce a law which tries to prevent the distribution of child pornography over the internet, the chosen approach is at least questionable. First, the technology used to enforce the blacklist is a silent regulation system (First Monday, 2011), which means that the regular British internet user is not able to distinguish between being blocked by a filter and simply having connection issues. As a consequence, the IWF could block any website without being noticed for a certain period of time which opens the door to potential misuse of power. Secondly, a blacklist will never be able to contain all websites with illegal content, since 571 websites are averagely created every single minute (James, 2012). Last but not least, there is always a way to bypass restrictions in the internet. If a British citizen really strives to watch, share, buy or even sell child pornography over the World Wide Web, he will find a way to do so. For this reason, it is highly doubtable that the current restrictions affect those who really commit crimes and not just internet users who get lost and end up at the wrong place. Nevertheless, a not extremely effective step against child pornography is still better than no step at all as the internet is simply the most difficult place to enforce laws and child pornography a topic which definitely should not be ignored.


Answers to questions 6 of the questionnaire (APPENDIX C): This question relates to the use of the WIKI in this KLS English course. Please rate the following aspects of preparation for your participation in a WIKI on this course.

Level 1

level 1

Level 2


Level 3



Figures are based on class numbers in week 2 and those who completed the course. attendance level1 attendance level2 attendance level3

Sian Lund
Siân Lund is interested in language teaching and linguistics, and psycholinguistics. She has investigated internationalisation and acculturation in contemporary higher education, and she specialises in academic literacies, English as an Additional Language, and materials production for non-native speakers of English in academia

Rhianon Williams

University of Edinburgh Rhianon Williams is based at the University of Edinburgh Masters specialising in Digital Education. She also works in the German civil service researching how digital technologies are used, including with non-native learners in order to overcome social and educational exclusion, and to improve access to training and the local labour market.

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