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Virtually connected: using Google for improving language competency in speaking and writing

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Marcin Lewandowski

on 20 August 2015

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Transcript of Virtually connected: using Google for improving language competency in speaking and writing

Virtually Written: exploring the efficacy of
tools for promoting collaboration and language competency
Marcin Lewandowski
Action Acton


All participants in this study were female. The participants were adult learners on English for Speakers of Other Languages courses. There were 6 students in the experimental condition and 7 in the control group. The participants’ linguistic ability ranged from E3 (pre-Intermediate) to L1 (Intermediate).

the course
A total of
six weekly sessions
were delivered. All sessions were scheduled to last approximately
one hour
with flexibility to extend the sessions when required. Each session was divided into
two parts,
namely, speaking and writing. The
six topics
selected for the course included
immigration, gender equality, capital punishment, freedom of speech
, etc. These topics were deliberately
and the intention was that they would lead to lively debates during which learners would generate ideas for their writing.
Discursive essay
writing was chosen for the sessions as it was felt that this style of writing would allow learners to continue their debates in writing and help them present their views in a more balanced way.

The sessions were scheduled and students in both groups received the questions and the text a
few days prior to the online session.
Students in the experimental group were asked to
themselves with the topic and key

prior to the session
The vocabulary learning was further facilitated by
’, an application which allows sets of flashcards to be created. These flashcards can be accessed on mobile phones as well as online.

To what extent can online video conferencing tools (e.g.
Google Hangouts
) and applications such as
Google Docs

be successfully applied in adult ESOL learning contexts to help learners improve their language skills as measured by participants’ performance on the vocabulary/writing pre/post-test.
How will adult ESOL learners respond to
synchronous online collaboration
on a writing task as measured by their responses to a questionnaire.


As a charity we are constrained by the funding we receive. This means that we can only offer part time courses, typically twice a week which amounts to
60 guided learning hours of input
. In a recent survey our learners admitted that despite living in an English speaking country they only use English for up to
30 mins a day

Online sessions
offered at times convenient for students to attend would complement the existing provision by creating opportunities for students to interact with a tutor and with each other which would be both meaningful and motivating.
This study was carried out at
Action Acton Learning Centre (AALC)
- a community centre based in the heart of the South Acton estate. It looked at the applicability of online tools such as Google Hangouts and Google Docs in adult ESOL learning.
This study rendered
positive outcomes
for the experimental group which suggests that Online Video Conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts can be applied in adult ESOL contexts to help learners improve their vocabulary range and writing skills.
Participants had made improvements in several areas:
text structure and organisation
- participants were more likely to structure their text in paragraphs with clear indentation; they were more likely to include an introduction and conclusion in their texts.
text cohesion
- participants’ use of linking words improved which aided text cohesion. Participants were more likely to use cohesive devices such as: however, moreover, on the one hand, on the other hand, although, etc.
- average length of the text increased from 19 lines to 25 lines as participants were more likely to expand their ideas instead of (in some cases) using bullet point lists.
other - participants also improved their
sentence structure
which gave their texts more clarity and made them more fluent.

online circle
was set up for the participants in the experimental condition on Google plus to enable and facilitate sharing and communication.

the session
Google Hangouts
, an online video conferencing tool, was used for the sessions. This meant that participants could see one another for both parts of the session, i.e. speaking and writing.
Google Docs
worksheet was created for each session and shared with all participants in the experimental group.
All participants had editing permissions which allowed them to create the essay
collaboratively in real time
Google Hangouts
allowed them to talk to each other and
discuss the content
and edits while writing.
In order to investigate the questions two groups were established - experimental and control.
Participants in the experimental condition attended six online speaking and writing sessions in addition to their regular classes whereas the control group attended only their regular classes.
Both groups’ progress was assessed using pre-/post-test methodology.
question #1
question #2
The small size of the sample requires one to remain prudent when interpreting the findings of this study; however, they do provide some insight into the way adult learners interact with online synchronous communication systems such as those provided by Google and how they can be adopted for teaching and learning purposes. As such this study offers answers to the questions posed in it.

Question 1 investigated the efficacy of using
Google Hangouts
Google Docs

in adult ESOL learning contexts.
Question 2 dealt with adult ESOL learners'
synchronous online collaboration
on a writing task.
The analysis of the pre/post test results indicates that students in the experimental group made
greater progress
on the vocabulary test when compared to the control group. Participants'
skills also improved.
This improvement can partly be attributed to the
of the course which

learning with
interaction and collaboration where learners were expected


the session materials and learn key vocabulary
prior to the session
in order to use it unhindered during it. This helped them to improve their speaking skills.

[My speaking improved because] before the session we prepare all the new vocabulary and articles which [the teacher] has given.
The participants felt that doing the online course helped them
improve their writing skills.
An analysis of their writing tests seems to confirm this. A closer look at students’ texts produced before and after the intervention revealed that participants had made improvements in areas relating to
text structure and organisation
text cohesion
grammatical accuracy,
Naturally, one has to be
when attributing these results to the intervention. Gains related to grammar and text structure could be ascribed to classroom input; however, it is less likely to be the case with discursive writing which was not covered in the class during this period.
Participants admitted that working with other students was
but they found the concept of collaboration quite
, e.g.:

“I think it’s useful. But to me, I didn’t get used to this way because combining [others’] ideas is not so easy.” ,
“writing as a group it's hard because you have your own ideas to write.”
They felt
about editing the texts and correcting others’ mistakes if that meant that they had to change or delete their peers’ text.
of sufficient knowledge

when compared to that of their peers’ was another reason why the participants felt reluctant to correct their peers’ mistakes:
“I think her English is better than me. And I don’t think I have enough English ability to correct and find her mistakes accurately.”

Participants felt
social norms
when it came to editing others’ work which they felt could
the authors if they made such edits. As one participant put it:
“ I would be upset if another student deleted my sentence. It should be the teacher making final corrections.”

social norms
Participants found the online course
as it allowed them to practise speaking and writing skills and develop confidence in the process:
“yes, [the course] was very useful because i built confidence of speaking and writing at the same time.”

They also
the opportunity to
their ideas with other students:
“I find the session useful in my writing and also in my speaking because you are given the chance to speak and give your opinion.”

nature of the course was recognized by some students as its particular
“Being able to attend from home was most useful for me because sometimes I need to stay at home for some reasons.”
Participants felt
about collaboration

at the
discussion stage
as they enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the topic with their peers, e.g.:
“It was helpful. I could know other person's views as well and discuss about them.”
& implications
The study shows the real
that an application of online tools such
Google Hangouts
Google Docs
can have in adult learning settings.
These tools offer
language practice opportunities
across many participants within many different locations and, in the case of writing, across varied periods of time.
They can
support emerging pedagogical practices
in the ESOL classroom.
Google Docs also enables teachers to
throughout the writing process and offer
constructive feedback
as and when required.

This study was informed and inspired by the following literature:
Brooks, F. B. & Donato, R. (1994). Vygotskyan approaches to understanding foreign language learner discourse during communicative tasks, Hispania, 77(2), 262-274

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Christodoulou, D. (2013). Seven Myths about Education. The Curriculum Centre. Kindle Edition.

Clarke, A. and Luger, E. (2009) ICT and E-learning, NIACE retrieved May 2015 from

Diaz, L. A., & Entonado, F. B. (2009). Are the functions of teachers in e-learning and face-to-face learning environments really different? Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), pp. 331-343.

FELTAG Report (2014) Paths forward to a digital future for Further Education and Skills, retrieved May 2015 from http://feltag.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/FELTAG-REPORT-FINAL.pdf

Kern, N. (2013) Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons: real-life language, tasks, and tools for professional. In G. Motteram (Ed.), Innovations in Learning Technologies for English Language Teaching. London: British Council.

Kessler, G. (2009). Student-initiated Attention to Form in Wiki-based Collaborative Writing. Language Learning & Technology 13(1), pp. 79-95

Kessler, G., Bikowski, D, & Boggs, J. (2012). Collaborative Writing among Second Language Learners in Academic Web-based Projects. Language Learning & Technology 16(1), pp. 91-109

Lewandowski, M. (2015). Creating virtual classrooms (using Google Hangouts) for improving language competency. Language Issues (in print)

Ofsted (2009) Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings, retrieved May 2015 from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/325/1/VLE%20an%20evaluation%20of%20their%20development.pdf

Slaouti, D., Onat-Stelma, Z. and Motteram, G. (2013). Technology and adult language teaching. In G. Motteram (Ed.), Innovations in Learning Technologies for English Language Teaching. London: British Council.

Wigglesworth, G., & Storch, N. (2009). Pair versus individual writing:Effects on fluency, complexity and accuracy. Language Testing, 26(3), 445-466.
Based on the findings of this study the following
will be made to the future iterations of the online Speaking and Writing course:
Two sessions per topic.
The current design assumed that there would be only one session per topic where the writing process would be initiated in the class and finished in own time. This did not create sufficient opportunities for feedback where learners could look at their final drafts together and make final edits. Adding an additional session to each topic would address this issue.
will have to be
if necessary. This could be done by:
allocating different parts of the text to each participant.
providing specific training on error correction, e.g. by asking learners to correct a generic text together.

Future research could also consider different cohorts of learners, including different ethnic groups, ages, language levels. It could also look at other types of writing.
A fuller version of this study in a format of a research paper is available on request @ marcin.lewandowski.11@gmail.com. It contains a literature review and a detailed description and discussion of the findings.

I would like to thank Mary Conway for her help and support with the writing of this paper and East Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training for making this grant available.

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