Collaborative writing to learn procedures

Dual-T – Project 6: Collaborative writing to learn procedures

Description of project

Vocational training involves mastering numerous professional procedures. In order to carry on a procedure accurately, a practitioner should not only master the sequence of steps and the gestures –the ‘Hows’– but also the underlying rationales –the ‘Whys’ (Broudy, 1977, Bonner et Walker, 1994).

Our conjecture is that apprentices will reach a high mastery of professional procedures through individual or collaborative writing activities that engage them in deeper cognitive processing.

A second thread of this project concerns e-portfolios as the sum of digital productions made by the apprentices in an environment. Productions can be collaborative-and-public, individual-and-public or private.

More specifically, the project will address the following research questions:

1. Do collaborative writing activities promote learning practice-related knowledge, and particularly deep comprehension of the whys underlying the execution of procedures? This question investigates the processes involved in writing and the role of error analysis.

2. Under which conditions do collaborative writing activities promote deep learning? Conditions here refer to the design of the learning activity and accordingly of functionalities at the computer support level. Particularly, we will investigate the role of scaffolding and collaboration modality (e.g., co-writing vs. peer commenting) and the corresponding computer support.

3. Can e-portfolios foster the apprentices’ professional development, identity and motivation to learn? Particularly, we will investigate whether e-portfolio writing engages students in reflection about their professional skills and development. On a practical side, the project will examine the conditions under which e-portfolios can be effectively integrated in vocational training, and how they allow to link workplace experience with the competences foreseen by the curriculum.



We worked in the field of commerce with commercial employees. The general framework was constituted by Design-based research (Brown, 1992, Collins, 1992, DBRC, 2003) so that interventions have been designed together with teachers and responsible form the corporate association. Experimental studies were also foreseen. Questionnaires were regularly submitted to assess apprentices’ perceived ease of use, usefulness and satisfaction towards the learning activities, but also to collect measures about professional identity and reflective attitude development. With teachers we progressively tested different learning scenarios. When possible, we used at least a second classroom as a control group to be contrasted to the experimental class; in this case, results to declarative knowledge tests were also used as preliminary learning outcomes. The quality of text was the other main measure to assess the effect on reflective writing.

The project is part of the Dual-T Leading House “Technologies for VET” funded by SERI.

Duration:  October 2009 – October 2013


Project leader 

 Alberto Cattaneo  



Alberto Cattaneo, Elena Boldrini, Christoph Arn


Institutional partner 

University of Geneva, Prof. Mireille Bétrancourt



Boldrini, E., & Cattaneo, A. (2014). Scaffolding collaborative reflective writing in a VET curriculum. Vocations and learning, 7(2), 145-165.

Boldrini, E., & Cattaneo, A. (2013). Written identification of errors to learn professional procedures in VET. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 65 (4), 525-542.

Boldrini, E., & Cattaneo, A. (2013). Procedural learning in VET through written identification of errors. Paper presented at the Vocational Education and Training Research: Supporting Teachers, Practitioners and Policy Makers. 3rd Congress on Research in Vocational Education and Training in Switzerland, Zollikofen – Best Paper Award.

Boldrini, E., & Cattaneo, A. (2012). Collaborative Writing on Professional Experiences as a Means for Fostering Reflective Thinking in VET Curricula. In C. Gelati, B. Arfé & L. Mason (Eds.), Issues in Writing Research (pp. 180-188). Padova: Cleup.

Cattaneo, A., & Aprea, C. (2014). Using technologies to integrate vocational learning in multiple contexts. In V. C. X. Wang (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Education and Technology in a Changing Society. Hershey, PA: IGI-Global.

Gavota, M., Cattaneo, A., Arn, C., Boldrini, E., Motta, E., Schneider, D. K., & Bétrancourt, M. (2010). Computer-supported peer commenting: a promising instructional method to promote skill development in vocational education. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 62(4), 495-511.

Motta, E., Boldrini, E., & Cattaneo, A. (2013). Technologies to “bridge the gap” among learning contexts in vocational training. In P. M. Pumilia-Gnarini, E. Favaron, E. Pacetti, J. Bishop & L. Guerra (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Didactic Strategies and Technologies for Education: Incorporating Advancements (2 Volumes), pp. 247-265. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.


Contact person 

Alberto Cattaneo