In this blog post I share some new digital texts and tools I've been playing with as I continue to evaluate my own writing process. Play with...and take a look at EtherPad clones, Twiddla, and Draft the next time you, or your students write.
Since wrapping up my dissertation I’ve spent about a year thinking deeply about my writing process and the new frontiers available for writing in and out of our classrooms. I’ve invested much more time documenting my learning and research process here on this blog. I’ve also advocated for online content construction by students and teachers as they make, blog, or create online content to document learning process and product. From a research standpoint, one of the biggest nagging questions that I’ve had since wrapping up the dissertation involves the challenges students have as they move from working individually to collaborating with others while working online. To that end, I’ve been working with a ton of digital texts and tools to identify “best practices” for working with these instruments.
When I write I never really use Microsoft Word, or Office products at all. I’ve detailed how I use Evernote and Google Docs for all of my writing. In fact, the last time I used Microsoft Word was to submit a description for a book chapter that I wanted to write with some colleagues. We did all of the writing via Google Docs…and then submitted the manuscript in Word. I received feedback here on the blog from Kristy Pytash (one of the editors of the book) that the editorial team used Google Docs in some of their planning as well. This makes me wonder about how long before we can complete all of our work using tools like Google Docs. In this blog post I would like to focus on some of the other incredible writing tools that are popping up online and challenge you to test them out to see what works for you.
Body Paragraph One – EtherPad Clones
One of my early favorites for writing and working collaboratively with colleagues was EtherPad. EtherPad was revolutionary because you could in “real-time” see what edits your colleagues were making to the document. While at the New Lit Research Lab I often used EtherPad with colleagues to share notes and write reports. EtherPad also included a chat window in the tool that allowed you to keep a running chat record of your conversations. EtherPad was purchased by Google and folded into Google Docs. The result of this is the ability in Google Docs to view your colleagues and their edits as they type them. The only thing that I wished was added to Google Docs from EtherPad was the ability to have a much more robust trail of edits and revisions in the document. In EtherPad all text added to a document was color-coded based on the author of the text. The revision history is often a challenging, missing element of Google Docs…especially when you have multiple students working on the same document and want to adequately assess their work.
For this reason I suggest checking out some of the EtherPad clones that are available. As I stated earlier, EtherPad was bought out by Google…but there are a bunch of clones and modified versions available. Some of the ones that I have been using are TitanPad and HackPad. TitanPad is a great option for teachers that want to have their students use an environment like EtherPad and keep some control of the “pads” that you or students create. HackPad is a bit more informal…and I think a bit more fun. For those of us that frequently use free conference call phone numbers…or need a quick place to edit content over time…I recommend HackPad. There are multiple other EtherPad clones that are out there…the key is to sign up for them and start using them to see which one you like the best. Once you start using an EtherPad clone like TitanPad or HackPad you’ll immediately see the affordances of the tool.
For some guidance on how to use TitanPad, please view the following video.
For more on specifics on how to use HackPad, please view the following video.
Body Paragraph Two – Twiddla
EtherPad clones are fun…and Google Docs and Google Drawing are fun, but sometimes you want to be able to have a mix of interactive whiteboard, chat space, and text editor. In what reminds me a lot of the ill-fated Google Wave, Twiddla is a good tool to use in helping students collaborate and collectively build products. Twiddla builds in a lot of the multimodal content construction and sharing tools that our students are comfortable with using. Twiddla is sometimes a bit challenging for teachers and students to use because there is so much that you can do. As I stated with the EtherPad clones…take some time to play with it, or at least watch the video below to see if it is of value to you.
For an overview of Twiddla, please view the following video.
Body Paragraph Three – Draft
The final tool that I would like to share is Draft. Draft is a drop-dead simple, minimalistic interface for just writing. Hidden beneath this basic interface is a powerful structure for writing, collaborating, revising, and receiving comments on your drafts. What I really like about Draft is the ability to line-by-line see changes or revisions that you receive from others and decide whether or now you want to make the changes indicated. There is also a Draft extension for Chrome that allows you to quickly jump into the tool and start off a new document, or continue with an older one. Several of my students have been asking for a tool that they can use to routinely jot down ideas for papers or blog posts before submitting…Draft might be that tool. Once again, play with it for a bit and watch the video below to see if it works for you.
For an overview of Draft, please view the following video.
Keep in mind that I still use Evernote for most of my informal writing, note-taking, and planning for blog posts. All of the materials that I save in Evernote I plan on never sharing with others, unless I copy/paste it out to a blog post, or to Google Docs. I use Google Docs for all formal writing, and collaboration with others. I also write up and share syllabi for classes with students in Google Docs. I regularly use…and enjoy using EtherPad clones in open community calls with Mozilla. IN future classes I’m considering having students use an EtherPad clone to build class notes, or collaboratively write papers. The tool that I plan on trying to start using more often is Draft for informal writing pieces. I think the real test will be to try it out with some colleagues during a writing project. I won’t use it for beginnings to blog posts. At this time I save drafts in WordPress for blog posts that I would like to finish at a later date. I usually have 3-4 different “stubs” of blog posts sitting in WordPress waiting to be finished. The materials for these posts will come from Evernote and Google Docs…but the writing (at least for the blog posts) starts and finishes in WordPress.
With all of these digital texts and tools there are various affordances that provide opportunities to work and write “differently.” My advice is to try out the different tools and see which one you like better. This might be for your own writing practice, or for your students. In the end, thinking deeply about our own writing process is a valuable experience.
Image CC by ashleyrosex