Designing Writing Tasks in Google Docs that Encourage Conversation: An Inquiry into Feedback and Revision

Designing Writing Tasks in Google Docs that Encourage Conversation: An Inquiry into Feedback and Revision

Rebecca Woodard (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA) and Adam Babcock (Spartanburg High School, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5982-7.ch001
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This chapter explores how a high school teacher's design of writing tasks in Google Docs encouraged conversations and revisions in student writing. It details how Adam, chapter author and an English teacher in an integrated studies course, developed various scaffolds to improve feedback, including assigning self-annotation “conversation starters” in one class and participating in writing processes as an author himself in another class. Peer conversations in Google Docs were used for two purposes in the former class—to encourage the writer to revise or to affirm the writer, and for two purposes in the latter class—to debate the writer's techniques or to talk about the writer. The findings highlight instances where conversations were more and less successful, and explore possible reasons for the classes' different conversation types in Google Docs. This chapter concludes with research, teaching and learning implications for K-12 teachers using Google Docs to support feedback and revision.
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Today’s technologies are changing the way that writers work together. With a call for collaboration by the U.S. Department of Education’s national educational technology plan (2010), and the Common Core State Standards galvanizing this emphasis, teachers are seeking ways to develop students’ cooperative composing practices. A recent Pew Research Center study of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers supports this shift, with “96% agree[ing] that digital technologies allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience” and “79% agree[ing] that these tools encourage greater collaboration among students’’ (Buchanan, Friedrich & Purcell, 2013 p.2). The study goes on to report concerns about student writing and feedback. Of the 2,067 middle and high school teachers surveyed, 37% believed students’ abilities to give constructive feedback on peer writing were fair, and 13% rated these skills as poor.

In response to such national and curricular initiatives, students’ classroom writing, and a proliferation of collaborative features in digital writing tools, teachers are challenged to better design technology-facilitated writing instruction and collaborative writing practices. After briefly reviewing the evolution of word processing and providing a framework for teachers to view the integration of digital writing tools in classrooms, we share our study of peer feedback practices using a collaborative writing tool in a technology-rich classroom.

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