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ESL academic writing and electronic bulletin boards : the viability of technological supplements for writing improvement and sociocultural development Spiliotopoulos, Valia

Abstract

Studying issues of second language writing and identity in an academic context is important as both students and teachers are adapting to an environment that is becoming increasingly multicultural, multilingual, and technological. A research project was conducted at the English Language Institute at the University of British Columbia in order to assess the viability of technological supplements in writing improvement and sociocultural development. This study evaluated whether on-line interactive writing using an electronic bulletin board helps students improve their academic writing skills, including meta-linguistic and critical thinking skills, as well as accuracy, fluency, complexity, and coherence. Additionally, secondary gains using this intervention were evaluated. These expected gains included increased student confidence and motivation, as well as a greater awareness of identity issues, cross-cultural understanding, and improved peer relations through collaborative tasks and introspective narrative and critical inquiry. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were used to gather data in order to evaluate writing progress over time. Measures used for the quantitative analysis included pre-tests and post-tests of the Cambridge Advanced Exam of English Usage, as well as expository essays written at the onset and conclusion of the three-month term. Upon comparison with a control group that utilized traditional paper-based and face-to-face instruction, the quantitative results gathered from test and essay scores did not reveal significant differences between the two groups, and as such, did not strongly support the efficacy of on-line interactive writing for improving academic writing. However, the qualitative results, gathered from guided on-line journal entries, interviews, questionnaires, and the researcher's observations, suggested that on-line writing can improve academic writing. Interactive writing on the electronic bulletin board was both form-focused and meaning-focused, and provided opportunities for authentic communication, negotiation of meaning, peer review, and self-correction. The guided tasks led to a development of meta-linguistic and critical thinking skills. Furthermore, the qualitative results of student self-report data revealed that on-line interaction assisted students in improving their confidence, increasing their motivation, and developing their cross-cultural and interpersonal communication skills. International students interacting on an electronic bulletin board were also more aware of self and group identity issues as they were integrating into a new academic and multicultural environment. The findings of this research project are consistent with previous research conducted using similar tools and contexts. Interactive electronic writing has the potential for improving second language writing skills, thereby providing international students with a greater opportunity to meet the academic standards set by the university. Additionally, on-line writing can enhance student confidence, motivation, and cross-cultural awareness to communicate with native speakers and other international students. Finally, interactive writing using an electronic bulletin board allows ESL students the possibility of becoming multiliterate, thereby enabling them to integrate into and contribute to the academic community more effectively.

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