Collaborative learning for principled Internet-Based Language Instruction


According to Jacobs, Ward and Gallo (1997, p. 5) “IT [information technology] can only deliver its potential benefit when integrated with good content and good pedagogy.” Richards and Rogers (2001) echo the idea by calling for principled approaches to language instruction. Internet-based language instruction (IBLI) should be no exception. Clearly, the ever-expanding World Wide Web benefits learners with potentially good content (Warschauer, 2001), so the question becomes what online activities support good pedagogy? This article recommends activities that involve collaborative learning efforts (e.g. Gerzog and Haugland, 1999; Jacob et al., 1997; Kasper, 2002; Warschauer, 2001), such as WebQuests (e.g. Barros and Carvalho, 2007; Dodge, 1997, 2001; March, 1998, 2007) to support principled pedagogy in IBLI.

Principled Approach

In discussing socio-constructivism and second language acquisition, Mondada and Doehler (2004, p. 502) claim “learning is rooted in the learner’s participation in social practice and continuous adaptation to the unfolding circumstances and activities that constitute talk-in-interaction.” Socio-constructivism, according to Westwood (2007), “stresses the importance of the influences of others in the learning environment in allowing the student to negotiate meanings and develop multiple perspectives.”  That learning environment in IBLI would ideally mean:

A structured, project-based approach which allows learners to engage in increasingly complex tasks throughout the course, collaboration with partners in the same class or in other locations, and with appropriate scaffolding from the teacher or other sources (including online resources).

(Wardhauer, 2001, ¶ 19)

A social context, be it pairs or small groups, enables learners to produce and “immediately do something” with information (VanDuzer, 1997, p. 4) in ways thought conducive to language acquisition, such as being able to notice errored or effective utterances (Brett, 1998; Chapelle, 1998; Huckin and Coady, 1999) and negotiate and/or modify those transmissions (Foster and Ohta, 2005; Pica, 2002; Warchauer, 2001).

Simply effective

Gerzog and Haugland (1999), for example, have demonstrated collaborative (CL) methods that foster language production. They had young classroom learners in different schools exchange emailed photos and opinions of their typical but differing days. They also shared the outcomes of floor-to-ceiling monster displays based on one circulated email description. These activities exposed the learners to several potentially beneficial language acquisition attributes, including:

  1. Increased student language production.
  2. Greater variety of language functions in student language production.
  3. Lower anxiety
  4. More individualization of instruction
  5. Higher motivation
  6. Greater enjoyment
  7. Increased independence
  8. Opportunities to collaborate
  9. Enhanced learning

(Jacobs et al., 1997, p. 5)

The nine attributes are appealing but ideal possibilities because CL can be challenging, too.

Collaborative challenges

Working effectively as a group takes individual effort. Jacobs et al. (1997) recommend that instructors pay attention to group interdependence concerns, specifically, avoiding divisive competition and fostering positive associations. For instance, they propose assigning each group member a role to perform, suspecting that “If students feel individually accountable, they are more likely to try to learn, rather than letting others do the work and learning for them” (Jacobs et al., 1997, p. 6).

Kasper (2002, p. 137) discovered CL helped promote accountability and cohesiveness after his learners initially complained that “dealing with so many different viewpoints” was difficult. The learners realized later that group activities actually helped them to develop team-working skills like “listening to and respecting one another’s opinions and working out compromises when there is disagreement among the group members” (p. 137).  According to Kasper, learners eventually recognized themselves and their peers as “valid resources for knowledge” (p. 137), adding, a key ingredient was allowing each learner to choose a study topic, saying “it puts the student in charge of his or her content” (p. 140).


Gerzog and Haugland (1999), Jacobs et al. (1997) and Kasper (2002) essentially described some potential challenges and outcomes found in WebQuests, a collaborative learning method where “some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet” (Dodge, 1997, ¶). March (2007, p. 2) explains:

A WebQuest is a scaffolded learning structure that uses links to essential resources on the World Wide Web and an authentic task to motivate students’ investigation of an open-ended question, development of individual expertise, and participation in a group process that transforms newly acquired information into a more sophisticated understanding.

A well-crafted Webquest, according to Dodge (2001, p. 8), will have the following qualities:

  • Positive interdependence: Learners believing they need each other to succeed.
  • Promotive interaction: Learners encouraging each other.
  • Individual and group accountability: Learners fulfilling a role in an ensemble.
  • Interpersonal and small group skills: Activities that build team-working experience.
  • Group processing: Collectively trying to improve ideas.

The WebQuest concept clearly reflects Warschauer’s (2001, ¶ 19) “best online teaching practices…” that comprise challenging, collaborative and project-based tasks. Still, some analysts have reported that WebQuests have limited value to EFL learners (Prapinwong and Puthikanon, 2008).

Cultural limitations

Prapinwong and Puthikanon (2008) claim Webquests in an EFL context can be ethnocentric. Many WebQuests are designed from or for a North American perspective (e.g. so, according to Prapinwong and Puthikanon (2008),   EFL learners may lack the background knowledge needed to muster sufficient interest in pursuing a quest. In other words, regardless of how good the content may appear, “if the students are not interested in that particular topic, the topic may be perceived as too difficult” (p. 8). In fact, Prapinwong and Puthikanon’s (2008) study of Webquest compatibility for college-level Thai students only endorsed four out of fifteen pre-existing Webquests for immediate use, thus leading them to recommend that “EFL teachers modify Webquests to suit their specific learners’ needs before applying them in classrooms” (p. 20). For example, teachers should make modifications with consideration for the learners’ English reading proficiency level (Brandl, 2002; Prapinwong and Puthikanon, 2008)

Negotiated Meaning

Barros and Carvalho (2007, p. 39) modified the WebQuest format to what they called a “reading quest.” The task their learners faced was to read a story with all the text provided online, use the World Wide Web to investigate the author and main character from the perspective of newspaper journalists, and then write a review for publication. The process used a worksheet and pop-up dictionary as scaffolding. The instructor lent no assistance. The learners, all Portuguese 8th graders, initially felt reading in English was too difficult and required too much responsibility on their part. The learners persisted with the content, nonetheless, “negotiating it with their peers” to construct meaning and, at the conclusion, reportedly gained an interest in further reading (p. 48); an indication this WebQuest adaptation was rewarding and the collaboration effective.

Expanded Collaborations

Adapting the Webquest and creating original ideas has always been encouraged (Dodge, 2001, Yoder, 1999). March (2007, p. 2), for instance, argues that “with the emergence of Web 2 applications like social networking, wikis, blogs and podcasts, the potential to use the Web environment to pursue personal learning has become a reality”.

March (2007) suggests broadening the WebQuest format to embrace new technologies often integrated in daily life (e.g. handheld devices). In other words, build a “personal learning scaffold” or “CEQ∙ALL” (p. 9), where:

  • C is for Choice or the freedom to choose and control the educational pursuit.
  • E is for Effort because the learner must invest his or her own energy to further the pursuit.
  • Q is for Quality, high quality, because the learner had the freedom of choice and effort.
  • A is for Attitude and will be positive if the choice was honest.
  • LL is for Labor of Love because people are more likely to thrive in environments that favor their interests and endeavors.

The CEQ∙ALL would mean, for example, learners sharing their typical day through email, as in Gerzog and Haugland (1999), could include the individuals’ days or weekends using a blog, chat tool or through an online social network. March (2007, p.8) suspects “a new personal learning scaffold integrates self-directed learning to promote increases in student wellbeing and advanced cognition.” His updated vision for WebQuests recognizes technology continues to change and highlights how social interaction remains essential for constructing and exchanging knowledge, linguistic or otherwise.


Devising CL scenarios addresses the question concerning which online activities could support good pedagogy in IBLI. CL is inherently principled from a socio-constructivist perspective as the approach represents social interaction for the development of knowledge. Though it may sound simple to arrange learners in instructional pairs or groups, there are several supporting conditions, such as promoting positive in-group associations, providing relevant and comprehensible content, and using scaffolding that does not diminish the task at hand. WebQuests, while drawing from the surplus of online content, may still need learner-specific adaptation to enhance cultural relevance and/or comprehensibility. Web 2 applications have the potential to broaden collaborative learning activities and consequently support good content and principled pedagogy in IBLI.


Barros, A. & Carvalhos, A.A. (2007). From a WebQuest to a ReadingQuest: learners’ reactions in an EFL extensive reading class.

          Interactive Educational Multimedia, 15(October), 37-51, Retrieved on August 28, 2008, from[]=124&path[]=161


Brandl, K. (2002). Integrating Internet-based reading materials into the foreign language curriculum: From teacher- to student-centered approached. Language Learning and Technology, 6(3), 87-107, Retrieved August 1, 2008, from


Brett, P. (1998). Using multimedia: A descriptive investigation of incidental language learning. Computer-assisted language learning, 11(2), 179-200, Retrieved on October 1, 2008, from EBSCO host academic search premier

Chapelle, C. (1998). Multimedia CALL: Lessons to be learned from research on instructed SLA. Language learning & technology. 2(1). 21-39. Retrieved September 1, 2007, from Directory of Open Access Journals database

Dodge, B. (1995). Some thoughts about WebQuests. Retrieved on August 15, 2008, from


Dodge, B. (2001). FOCUS: Five rules for writing a great WebQuest. Learning and Leading with Technology, 28(8), Retrieved on August 15, 2008, from


Foster, P. & Ohta, A. (2005). Negotiation for meaning and peer assistance in second language classrooms. Applied Linguistics, 26(3), 402-430, Retrieved on August 10, 2008, from JSTOR Arts & Sciences III Collection database 

Gerzog, E. & Haugland, S. (1999). Websites provide unique learning opportunities for young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 27(2), 109-114, Retrieved on September 1, 2008, from EBSCO host academic search premier

Huckin, T. & Coady, J. (1999). Incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 21(2), 181-193. Retrieved on May 10, 2007, from EBSCO host electronic journals service

Jacobs, G. M., Ward, C. S., & Gallo, P. B. (1997). The dynamics of digital groups: Cooperative learning in IT-based language instruction. Teaching of English Language and Literature, 13(2), 5-8, Retrieved on September 1, 2008, from

Kasper, L.F. (2002). Technology as a tool for literacy in the age of information: Implications for the ESL classroom. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (Special issue on “English in a New Key: Reporting on, and Critiquing, Technology-Mediated Instruction”), 30(2), 129-144, Retrieved on August 28, 2008, from

March, T. (1998). Why WebQuests? An Introduction. Retrieved on August 15, 2008, from


March, T. (2007). Revisiting WebQuest in a Web 2 world: How developments in technology and pedagogy combine to scaffold personal learning. Interactive Educational Multimedia, 15(October), 1-17, Retrieved on August 28, 2008, from[]=122&path[]=159

Mondada, L. & Doehler, S.P. (2004) Second language acquisition as situated practice: Task accomplishment in French second language classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 88(4), Retrieved on September 10, 2008, from JSTOR Arts & Sciences III Collection database 

Pica, T. (2002). Subject-matter content: How does it assist the interactional and linguistic needs of classroom language learners? The modern language journal. 86(1). 1-19. Retrieved August 19, 2007, from JSTOR Arts & Sciences III Collection database 

Prapinwong, M. & Puthikanon, N. (2008). An Evaluation of an Internet-Based Learning Model from EFL Perspectives, Asian EFL Journal, 26(April), 1-50, Retrieved August 3, 2008, from

Richards, J.C. and Rodgers, T.S. (2001) The nature of approaches and methods in language teaching. In Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed., pp. 18-35). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Duzer, C. (1997). Improving ESL learners’ listening skills: At the workplace and beyond. In Methodologies in teaching a second language: selected readings (section 2.2). University of Southern Queensland

Warschauer, M. (2001). Online communication. In R. Carter & D. Nunan (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages (pp. 207-212). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved on August 3, 2008, from

Westwood, P. (2007). Current issues in effective teaching and learning. Retrieved on August 10, 2008, from

Yoder, M. (2005). Inquiry based learning using the Internet: research, resources, WebQuests. Presented at the 19th annual conference on distance teaching and learning, Madison, Wisconsin. Retrieved on August 15, 2008, from





One Response to “Collaboration in IBLI”

Comments are closed.