This study investigates the use and potential of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) for students of English as a Second Language (ESL). The hypothesis that drives this study is founded on the assumption that students can work collaboratively online using software which allows them to chat and edit a document simultaneously. The purpose is to study the nature of collaboration and the students’ knowledge transformation.
The method used for this study was fieldwork where two different situations were emulated to compare collaborative situations. One group had access to three computers and used chat while the other group had access to one computer and could talk. Participants were 14-year old students from different countries in an international school. They were asked to write essays together. Participants were given surveys before and after the essay writing, and their collaborative writing was recorded using screen-capturing software.
Grounded theory was used as a method to analyze the written essays and the communicative process of either chat or oral discussion. The study provides evidence that ESL students can benefit from working with CSCL as a democratization of the writing process opens up knowledge transforming practices. Weak writers might find CSCL as an arena for contributing to the group and experience reciprocity in groups marked by positive interdependency and the teacher’s instructive facilitation. The CSCL arena is a multi-purpose space for new innovative language learning practices which requires instructional strategies from educators as well as comprehensive assessment practices including Assessment for Learning (AFL).
This study is focused on the collaborative process of language work for ESL classrooms, and provides evidence of a potential affordance in the method of CSCL. This potential remains untapped in the ESL classroom today. The need for shared knowledge transformation requires students’ ability to appropriate the necessary skills to learn collaboratively. "Many minds" holds the potential to facilitate and assist ESL students in their language learning with the use of new technological opportunities as well as new didactical practices.