I am currently undertaking an MA in Educational Leadership and Innovation, with a focus on New technologies, through Warwick University and Robin Hood Primary School. The assignments for this course are based on Action Research, and will as such require me to undertake research within my year 4 class. At the moment I am trying to decide on how I am going to undertake this, and thought I would share my ideas and invite other to comment and help me define what I am going to do. These are my ideas at present and very much subject to change, so I would really appreciate some comments to support or challenge my thinking.
I want to look at collaborative work mediated by new technologies, as it is the social and collaborative aspect of these tools which I find the most exciting development at present.
Traditional collaborative group work is often shaped by social roles defined by factors largely irrelevant to the work at hand. I am aiming to investigate whether technological tools which alter the mechanics of the writing process facilitate the development of roles which are more appropriate for the task of collaborative writing. It will investigate whether these roles can be derived from a child centred and open ended approach, or if defined structures are required to scaffold the collaborative process. If so it will investigate if technological tools fundamentally change or support this process, or if they are simply a different way of recording its outcome, and therefore not a core part of the process itself.
I propose to do this by creating a collaborative writing task for two groups of children. These groups will be provided with a collaborative writing environment based around 1:1 access to netbooks, and a live updating concurrent text editor (demonstrated here) such as Primary Pad or Google Wave. Both groups will be set the same task, but the first group will not be scaffolded in terms of their group roles and interactions. Their contributions to the group will be allowed to develop as they see fit, and the roles they take on and contributions they make will be observed. The second group will be provided with a scaffolded structure for group work based on Kagan structures for co-operative learning. These children will be given specific roles and turn taking rules, which may be rotated around the group at given intervals. The structures will be designed with the Kagan principle of PIES, that is Positive interdependence; Individual accountability; Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction.
Once the tasks have been completed I will analyse audio recordings of the talk that took place, a replay of the collaborative writing tool, and the finished piece of writing. I hope to analyse whether using a technology which changes the mechanics of the collaborative writing process, allowing all children to interact and edit at the same time supports them to think abstractly about group roles and create their own child- initiated structure, or if they require a structure to be imposed on them in order to scaffold their collaboration.
I am slightly unsure here whether it is appropriate to try to investigate two things at once: the effect of technology and the effect of scaffolded structures for group work. The alternatives to this is of course to compare the unstructured group with another unstructured group provided with pen and paper tools, thus only investigating the effect of the technology itself.
Ultimately what I am interested in is whether technology can enhance group work by changing the mechanics of the writing process, and whether the skills learned in such a collaborative task can be transferred to the individual writing process. I would be very interested to see if the different roles taken on by the group can be assimilated by the children and imposed on their own internal dialogue when they are writing individually. However, I recognise this is beyond the scope of a 10,000 word MA study and plan to save this for my final project next year.