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Middle School Students’ Writing and Feedback in a Cloud-Based Classroom Environment

Abstract

Individual writing and collaborative writing skills are important for academic success, yet are poorly taught in K-12 classrooms. This study examines how sixth-grade students (n = 257) taught by two teachers used Google Docs to write and exchange feedback. We used longitudinal growth models to analyze a large number of student writing samples (n = 3,537) as they changed across individual writing sessions (n = 18,146), and multiple regression analyses to relate writing quantity and types of feedback to changes in students’ standardized test scores. Additionally, student survey data and content analysis of students’ writing samples were used to contextualize and interpret students’ writing patterns. Overall, students had a positive attitude towards using Google Docs for editing and for the provision and receipt of feedback. They received various types of feedback from both their teachers and peers, but most were direct in character and in the areas of mechanics and grammar errors. However, neither students’ writing quantity nor their types of feedback on Google Docs was associated with their writing achievement. Our findings suggest that cloud-based technology could be integrated into K-12 classrooms to support students’ writing and editing, and to engage students in collaborative writing and improve interactions between writers and readers.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this study was provided by a Google Faculty Research Award (Mark Warschauer, PI).

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Binbin Zheng.

Appendix: Laptops and Learning—Collaborative Writing Survey

Appendix: Laptops and Learning—Collaborative Writing Survey

  1. 1.

    What grade are you in?

    • 6th grade

    • 7th grade

    • 8th grade

  2. 2.

    Which school do you go to?

    • Newton

    • Euclid

    • Powell

    • Goddard

  3. 3.

    Your gender

    • Male

    • Female

  4. 4.

    How many computers are there in your house?

    • 0

    • 1

    • 2

    • 3

    • 4

    • 5 or more

  5. 5.

    How would you rate your skill using computers?

    • Novice: I can turn my laptop on, but I don’t know how to use many programs.

    • Beginner: I am able to do a few simple things like browsing the Internet and some writing.

    • Intermediate: I do OK with 4 or 5 programs.

    • Advanced: I use lots of programs and sometimes help my classmates.

    • Expert: I’m often able to help others with their laptops, and generally fix computer problems quickly.

  6. 6.

    How much do you use your computer at school?

    • Never

    • Less than 1 h a day

    • 1–2 h a day

    • 2–3 h a day

    • 3–4 h a day

    • 4–5 h a day

    • 5–6 h a day

  7. 7.

    How much do you use your computer for each of these subjects at school?

      I do not take this class Less than an hour per week 1–2 h per week 3–4 h per week 5–6 h per week 7 or more hours per week
    English language arts (includes reading, writing, spelling, language)       
    Social studies/history       
    Math       
    Science       
    Writing papers (total writing time for any subject)       
  8. 8.

    How much do you use the following Google products AT SCHOOL?

      Never Less than once a week Weekly A few times a week Less than 1 h a day 1–2 h a day More than 2 h a day
    Gmail        
    Google Docs        
    Google Sites        
    Google Talk        
    Google Calendar        
    Google Reader        
    Google Video        
    Google Maps        
    EasyBib        
    Aviary        
  9. 9.

    How much do you use the following Google products AT HOME?

      Never Less than once a week Weekly A few times a week Less than 1 h a day 1–2 h a day More than 2 h a day
    Gmail        
    Google Docs        
    Google Sites        
    Google Talk        
    Google Calendar        
    Google Reader        
    Google Video        
    Google Maps        
    EasyBib        
    Aviary        
  10. 10.

    How much do you usually use Google Docs AT SCHOOL to do the following?

      Never Less than once a week Once a week A few times a week Less than 1 h a day 1–2 h a day More than 2 h a day
    Take notes        
    Write drafts as the only author        
    Write drafts that have two or more authors        
    Revise or edit something you have written        
    Give comments on other students’ writing        
    Fill in teacher templates during class activities        
    Chat with others in Google Docs        
    Make or work on spreadsheets        
    Make presentation slides        
  11. 11.

    How much do you usually use Google Docs AT HOME to do the following?

      Never Less than once a week Once a week A few times a week Less than 1 h a day 1–2 h a day More than 2 h a day
    Write drafts as the only author        
    Write drafts that have two or more authors        
    Revise or edit something you have written        
    Revise or edit other students’ writing        
    Give comments on other students’ writing        
    Chat with others in Google Docs        
    Make or work on spreadsheets        
    Make presentation slides        
  12. 12.

    Comparing writing with Google Docs to WRITING ON PAPER, please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements about use of Google Docs?

      Strongly disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly agree
    Using Google Docs helps me keep better organized than using paper      
    I like writing on Google Docs more than writing on paper      
    It’s easier for me to revise/edit my work on Google Docs than on paper      
    I write higher quality drafts on Google Docs than on paper      
    I get more feedback on my writing when I write on Google Docs than on paper      
  13. 13.

    Comparing writing with Google Docs to WRITING ON WORD PROCESSING SOFTWARE (Open Office, Microsoft Word, etc.), please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements about use of Google Docs?

      Strongly disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly agree
    Using Google Docs helps me keep better organized than using a word processor      
    I like writing on Google Docs more than writing on a word processor      
    It’s easier for me to revise/edit my work on Google Docs than on a word processor      
    I write higher quality drafts on Google Docs than on a word processor      
    I get more feedback on my writing when I write on Google Docs than on a word processor      
  14. 14.

    Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements about writing?

      Strongly disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly agree
    I like writing for a real audience      
    Writing for a real audience helps improve my writing      
    I like getting feedback on my writing      
    Getting feedback helps improve my writing      
    I like giving others feedback on their writing      
    Giving feedback to others helps me improve my writing      
    I like writing with multiple authors      
    Working with multiple authors helps improve my writing      
  15. 15.

    Please describe what you like most about Google Docs:

  16. 16.

    Please indicate any challenges you have experienced with Google Docs:

  17. 17.

    Please include any other comments or suggestions regarding use of Google Docs:

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Zheng, B., Lawrence, J., Warschauer, M. et al. Middle School Students’ Writing and Feedback in a Cloud-Based Classroom Environment. Tech Know Learn 20, 201–229 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-014-9239-z

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Keywords

  • Google Docs
  • Collaborative writing
  • Feedback
  • Cloud-based technology