Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting and attending a great ESL conference in Spokane, Washington. This is a surprisingly vibrant community of instructors and administrators that have been meeting in spring each year to discuss and share ideas with one another (I might also add that this was one of the cheapest conferences I have ever attended. I applaud them for keeping the cost down).
During the last session, Ron Belisle spoke on using cloud based products to help organize our lives and increase productivity. While the presentation was mainly focused on assisting teachers, it sparked a conversation on the use of Google Docs in the classroom. Some people were concerned about having to make students register with Google in order to make a page private.
After getting home on Sunday afternoon, I did a little research on the subject and made a discovery that looked promising. I discovered that Etherpad, the company formally bought out by Google, had been released as an open source project and was still being developed. A quick look on the Etherpad site gave be a list of products that were using the Etherpad project to develop their own sites.
One of these sites is Titanpad. I played around with it for a while and discovered that you could create a team “pad” and could make it private, in which the members of the team would need to give their email address, or you could make it public, but still have it password protected. That is where this separates from Google Docs. You can have a public pad, but lock it with a password without having the person giving up any personal details, not even their name. The best part is that it is completely free.
I gave it a test run on a simple activity in class where I gave them a reading and put the more difficult vocabulary on the class pad. Since the document can be edited in real-time, each student could log onto the page and edit it at the same time and the changes are reflected on all of the screens immediately. I asked the students to put their names beside the word they planned on looking up and then had them find and give the definition for that word along with a sample sentence that they wrote on their own. I was logged in as well and made comments on the chat portion of the page while they were typing. I could see the problems that certain students were having and then wandered over to their desk and gave them assistance.
The students loved the project and said it made the reading that followed much easier to understand. They could keep the new collaborative glossary open and refer to it while reading. They also added a few additional words to the list, which is something I hadn’t anticipated.
I decided to expand the use of the pad and created a personal site for each student to post their homework and assignments. I able to check on their work and comment or correct where necessary. I also plan on referring to it every four weeks when we have a one-to-one discussion on their progress. It is almost like having an e-portfolio for each student.
I plan on trying to use this in a group assignment where students are asked to do a collaborative project that includes work outside of class. I will assign them a new pad to do their work and they can then use the document or the chat space to discuss their work online.
I think this is a great tool and plan on continuing its use in my classroom.
Do you have any ideas to share? Have you done something similar in your classroom?