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A few digital writing tools worth checking out

Whenever I hear about a new web application or digital writing tool, I immediately think, “How can I use that in my classes?!” I wanted to share a list of some pretty random web sites that might interest teachers who want to explore new technologies for collaboration and nontraditional writing modes. Maybe you’ve heard about these, maybe you haven’t… but I’m having fun imagining the possibilities for English classes and beyond…

  • Pinterest, a “virtual pinboard.” Think of it as an image-sharing website with a social networking component. Users create and manage theme-based image collections and browse other pinboards for inspiration, “re-pin” images to their own pinboards, or “like” images. You could ask students to use Pinterest to gather images related to writing/research projects. On the site, a student can “create a board” for his or her project. Alternatively, you can create a class board for the semester, and students can post visual responses to topics or questions as prompted. Each post (called a “pin”) is required to have a “description”; students cannot simply pin images with no text. This could be an opportunity to discuss possibilities for combining visual texts with alphabetic captions. In a computer classroom, where all students can peruse images together, this Pinterest board could be a rich resource for discussion and interpretation.
  • Crocodoc is an annotation tool that features highlighting, commenting, and drawing tools. Upload a document for collaboration and then share the link via email. Similar to Google Docs, users can “collaboratively add and reply to comments on shared documents.” Crocodoc has a slightly higher learning curve than Google Docs, but it offers more commenting features that capture the spirit of handwriting on a sheet of paper (especially nice for online-only courses, for which students are typing a lot of standard alphabetic text). With Crocodoc, students can draw free-hand arrows, circles, stars, smiley faces etc. Password protection for documents is a plus for students working on (rough!) drafts of papers.
  • Popplet describes itself as a “a place for your ideas,” but I’d call it real-time, collaborative brainstorming. Users create clusters of ideas using images and text. You can easily move, resize, color-code, and link ideas in the Popplet workspace. Features include sharing, commenting, and a presentation mode. If multiple students are collaborating on one Popplet cluster, there is a labeling feature so you can discern authorship. The web version of Popplet uses Flash, but there is an iPad version, too. This tool would be great for gathering research, organizing ideas in the direction of a thesis statement, outlining essays, or mapping concepts in a reading. The collaborative side of Popplet could be a nice way for students in online-only courses to have the sense of “group work” even as they contribute remotely and asynchronously.
  • TitanPad “lets people work on one document simultaneously.” Pretty simple! This open source project works like EtherPad (which was bought by Google and shut down). Users don’t need accounts. Just click “Create Public Pad,” and then you will receive a URL for your workspace. This would be a great tool for a computer-based peer review or collaborative writing project during or outside of class time. Each user gets his or her own color, making it easy to see who is who.

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