Peer feedback in online writing activities: Comparing the impact of Google Docs and Wikis on individual writing performance

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This thesis explores the impact of inline vs. non-inline commenting on learners’ individual writing performance. This is done through exploring whether peer feedback exchanged on Google Docs and Wiki, two widely used Web 2.0 platforms in L2 writing classes, brings about a differential impact on students’ individual writing performance. The study included an intervention with 40 (20 dyads) upper-intermediate level Saudi EFL students in a Saudi University. Following a split-class design, half of the class was randomly assigned to the first experimental condition (Google Docs) and the other half of the class was assigned to the other experimental condition (Wiki). In both conditions, the learners exchanged peer feedback and peer edits, took pre-, post- and delayed- post-tests. Half of the participants in the intervention then participated in one-on-one semi-structured interviews to elicit their perceptions of their learning experience in the two modalities as well as to help explain the participants’ performance in the quantitative data (tests and online interactions). Students in both groups improved overall, with the Wiki group improving more than the Google Docs group. Examining data in more depth, the students in the Google Docs group improved more than the Wiki group in terms of form. These results might be explained by the fact that Google Docs group provided more feedback focusing on form as well as the value that Google Docs group saw in a number of functions that promote narrowly-focused feedback on language such as automated update commenting, visual connection between feedback mode and the texts, and in-line commenting. On the other hand, the Wiki group improved more in terms of content. These results might be due to the fact that Wiki group participants provided more feedback focusing on content and their use of online tools for mediating their content-based feedback. As the two groups showed differences in writing accuracy, teachers should carefully consider the features of technological tools before implementing them in writing classes. In addition, significant differences in feedback focus and reactions to it in both groups imply that Google Docs is more suitable for editing and accuracy, whereas Wiki seems to be better option for drafting purposes with focus on content. Therefore, teachers must do extra work to offset these platform’s limitations.