Notepad: A collaborative text editor with text and audio chat

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 4.11.08 PMOne tool I use in my language classroom quite a bit is a collaborative text editor / word processor. For years, I have even using TitanPad as my main text editor since students don’t have to register and yet I can password protect it. One thing that is missing from TitanPad and other collaborative writing platforms is the ability to audio chat as well as text chat. Also, with the advent of mobile devices, Adobe Flash sites have become an issue for me, so I am always on the lookout for sites that use HTML5 so mobile users can us it.

One such site is Notepad. It doesn’t require any registration and doesn’t have any ads. Users can invite others to join in and collaborate on a document using a unique URL. Users on a browser such as FireFox, Chrome, or Opera can also give permission to use the microphone to audio chat. It is super simple to use and could be an effective tool in the language classroom. Here is how it works:

  • Go to Notepad and a new note will appear on the screen.

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  • At this point, users can start typing a message on the notepad. It doesn’t allow for any formatting, but that can also be an advantage as students won’t be tempted to fiddle with the settings.
  • On the right hand side is a set of blue buttons:

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  • Clicking on the top button allows users to change their name (‘Update your name’), add a profile picture (‘Change avatar’), and pick a colour to use so others viewing will know who is where on the screen (‘Pick a profile color’). You can also get help, give feedback to the website owner, or end the notepad (creator only).

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  • Clicking on the second button will give you a unique URL that you can share with others. Remember, anyone with the link can see and edit the document. Be careful where you share it.

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  • Clicking on the third button from the top will prompt the browser to ask you for access to your microphone. This starts the audio chat. Make sure to click on the appropriate button on your browser to give it access.

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  • Clicking on the bottom button will open the text chat window.

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  • When others are online, you will see where their mouse cursor is with a small hand and their profile name and colour. If you click anywhere, a circle will appear in your profile colour that everyone can see.

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I have added it to my ‘Webtools: No Registration Needed for Students‘ page under the ‘Documents‘ section.



Annotate and share a document online with Crocodoc Personal

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.06.24 PMHaving a place to share and annotate documents online with students can be very handy. Instead of swapping documents, such as Word documents and PDFs, anyone can upload these files to Crocodoc Personal for free without registering and without having to deal with ads. Once uploaded, people can highlight, comment, add texts, and draw on the document and others can add their thoughts as well. Here is how it works:


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  • Once uploaded, you can add three different types of comments: point, area, or text.

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  • Point comments add a red mark on the document where you would like to add your comment and links to a comment area on the side where you can add text.

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  • Area comments allow users to drag a box around an area which links to a comment area on the side where you can add text.

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  • Text comments allow users to highlight text which links to a comment area on the side where you can add text.

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  • Users can also draw on the text in four different colours.

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  • Users can also add text comments directly onto the document using the ‘Text’ tool.

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  • Choose the highlight tool to highlight sections of the text without adding comments.

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  • Use the ‘Strikeout’ tool to draw a line through whatever you select and it also gives you a box to add text comments directly above the deleted text.

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  • To share the document with others, click on the ‘Share’ button and copy the ‘Link’ URL. If you want others to comment, make sure the ‘Allow others to add comments to this document’ button is checked, otherwise, uncheck to allow for reading only. Click on the ‘Embed’ tab to copy the embed code to add to your website.

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  • You can also download the original document or the marked-up PDF by clicking on the ‘Download’ button.

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  • An easy way of getting through all of the comments and highlights is to open up the comments pane. Click on the double-arrow button right beside the ‘Download’ button. You can then click on a comment to go directly to that section. You can also use this as a bookmark functions to make it easier to manage a larger document.

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I’ve also created a printable guide on commenting that can be given to students or teachers. Feel free to print, distribute, or edit as long as you keep the credit along the bottom.


A Comprehensive Guide to GroupZap – An Online Post-it Board

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There are a number of online corkboard / whiteboard / pinboards that one can use to post notes and files, and even draw and then share those with others. Some can be done in realtime, and others require saving and sharing. One of the most popular is Padlet and for good reason. It is simple to use and handles multimedia files with ease. While fantastic, Padlet is not without some minor bumps. For one, you can’t change the colour, size, or font of the post-it notes, it doesn’t always play nice with links, and to download a file, you have to view it and then scroll down to the source link button. You can create as large a pad as you would like, but there is no map feature to see where you are and to easily navigate to that spot. Lastly, there isn’t a history function such as you would find in a wiki to scroll back to see what people have done to the board over time.

To address these things, I have turned to GroupZap. GroupZap is an online post-it board that allows users to collaborate with others in realtime and to do all of the things I just mentioned that Padlet doesn’t do. This post is meant to be a fairly comprehensive guide to all things GroupZap.

I’ve broken the instructions into sections to make it easier to find answers to what you need to do, but you can also read it in order from creation to sharing.

Creating a new board:



  • Type in your email address (note: you can use a fake email address as well). You may also give your board a name in the ‘Topic’ field. Click on ‘Go to Whiteboard’ when you are finished.


  • Click on ‘Let’s GroupZap!’


Adding items to your whiteboard:


Once you have created a GroupZap board, you can then start adding things to the board quite easily. Most of the functions are drag-and-drop, although you can also click and add items as well.

  • To add a simple coloured note to the page, simply drag a note over from the ‘Stuff to Add’ column on the right side of the screen.


  • To add a file from your computer, simply open a file window on your computer, find the file you would like to add, and drag it onto the GroupZap board. GroupZap will only support files up to 100MB.
  • You can also add a note by simply clicking on the note you would like to add and it will appear in the middle of the board.
  • You can also adda file by scrolling down the ‘Stuff to Add list’ and clicking on the ‘Choose File’ button.

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  • Lastly, you can add a file from a weblink by scrolling down the ‘Stuff to Add list’ and add the link to the URL box and click on ‘Add’.

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Arranging and resizing the items on your board:


Once you have added items to your board, you can resize, rotate, modify, arrange, delete, and move them.

  • To move an item, simply click and drag it to where you would like to place it.
  • To rotate and resize the item, simply hold down the shift key and click and move the mouse up and down to rotate and left and right to resize it.


  • To edit the content of a note, double-click on the note and click on the ‘Edit’ icon (pencil).


  • To move a note in front of another item or behind it, double click on the item and then click on ‘Front’ or ‘Back’.
  • To delete an item, double click on it and choose ‘Delete’. If you accidentally delete something, you will find an ‘Undelete’ panel at the top of the ‘Stuff to Add’ list on the right side of the page. Simply click and drag the item back onto the board.

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  • To lock an item in place and prevent it from being rotated, resized, or deleted, double-click on the item, choose ‘Edit’ and then click on the lock symbol before clicking ‘OK’.

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Editing the content of the item:


  • To add a note to a file, double click on it, choose ‘Edit’ and then add your text to the ‘Note’ field and click on ‘OK’.

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  • To add a link and/or note to a coloured note, double click on it, choose ‘Edit’, click on the link icon (chain) and add your note and/or URL before click on ‘OK’.

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Clicking on links, and downloading files:


  • To click on links of a note, double click on the note, choose ‘Edit’ and then click on the link icon (chain). Click on the arrow next to the URL and the link will open in a new window or tab.


  • To download a file, such as an image or PDF, double click on the item and click on ‘Download’ button.

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Adding boxes, lines, and arrows:


  • Scroll down the ‘Stuff to Add’ column until you see the lines and boxes. Drag an item on the board. Click and drag the dots on the item to manipulate them.

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Adding a different background:


  • At the top of the page, click on ‘Your Whiteboard’, click on ‘Administer’, and then choose your ‘Custom Background’, before clicking on ‘Update’ and ‘Whiteboard’.

Sharing with others:


  • At the top of the page, click on ‘Invite’ and ‘Send Link’. Choose the type of link you want by clicking on ‘Editing’ and choosing either ‘Viewing only’, ‘Administrators’, or leave it as ‘Editing’. Copy the link from beside it and share with whomever you would like.

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Adding a password:


  • At the top of the page, click on ‘Invite’ and ‘Security’.
    • Check off ‘Read-only’ to stop editing on the page.
    • Under ‘Access’, choose ‘Anonymously’ so those visiting the page won’t have to share who is editing.
    • Under ‘Board Password’, add a password and confirm if you want to make the page private.

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Export and embed your board:


  • Once you are finished, you can share an image or PDF of your board by clicking on ‘Export’ at the top of the page and then ‘PDF’ or ‘PNG’.
  • You can also export a CSV file of all notes and links by clicking on ‘Export’ at the top of the page and then ‘CSV’.

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  • You can embed the board by clicking on ‘Export’ at the top of the page and then ‘Share/Embed’. Copy the ‘Embed’ code and ‘Whiteboard’.  Paste the embed code into your website.

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Text2Mindmap – A simple, registration-free webtool for creating mindmaps


In my class, I often have students brainstorm ideas and then share them as a group to the whole class. One of the ways we do this is through mind maps. I have a love / hate relationship with mind maps due to the fact that they can be quite effective in visualizing ideas and information, but that image can get quite muddy and messy if you have too many items or are using paper and pens with lots of scribbles and changes.

To overcome some of that, I like to use computer-based mind mapping tools, especially if the creators are able to share that with others and they can then add to it or simply view it. Either way, it makes it much easier to expand the discussion beyond the people in the room.

One of the online mind mapping tools I like is the simple and minimalist approach used by Text2Mindmap. Instead of a flashy, all-in-one approach, the designers of this site have gone with a clean, easy to use look, even down to the lack of registration requirement. It works on almost anything and users don’t need to do much more than simply type in their mind map as an outline and the tool does the rest. Here is how it works:

  • Go to and a sample map will appear showing the months of the year along with the seasons.


  • Click on ‘New’ just below the box on the left-hand side of the page to get a clean slate to work from.


  • In the box labelled ‘Outline your text’, type in your outline of the map using indents (the tab key) to create branches and sub-groups.
  • To view what you have created so far, click on the ‘Draw Mind Map’ button at the bottom of the box. Your map will appear on the right-hand side of the page. You can now click-and-drag the items around. If you want to continue editing, simply continue typing in the outline box and clicking on the draw button to refresh.


  • At the bottom of the outline box is an options tab. Clicking on this brings up options about locking the position of the items, fonts, colours of the items (I like the level instead of branch option), and line colour.


  • Below the box are the ‘New’, ‘Save’, ‘Download’, and ‘Zoom’ buttons.
    • New – Creates a blank outline. Be careful with this one since it will erase your current work without warning.
    • Save – Will ask for a title and an email. You can use a fake email address in this place. Once you have done that and clicked on the ‘Save’, you will get two links to share: one for editing and one for viewing only.
    • Download – This will give you the option of downloading your map as a PDF or JPG image.
    • Zoom – This is actually two buttons, one for zooming in and one for out.


  • To remove the box on the left, click on the ‘Text2Mindmap’ title in the top-left corner and you will be left with only the mind map visible. Click on the title again to make it re-appear.


Yes, it is pretty simplistic in that you can’t add any documents, images, links, and so on, but it does provide a nice clean interface that is familiar for users who are not as tech saavy. I work with adult learners and sometimes the added ‘benefit’ of more options is actually more than some of them can handle up front. A tool like this gives them a place where they can develop and share ideas with others without the steep learning curve. It is also easier for some teachers to understand as was the case in one of my tech sessions that I gave. One such teacher was drawn to the ease of use for her as she often felt nervous trying to get students to use something she didn’t feel totally comfortable with herself. In the end, she gave a short session to the others in her group on how to use it and she felt like she had something she could take to her class in confidence.

Let me know what you think of it and ideas of how you may use it in your classroom. Thanks!

WriteURL: A Simple, Registration-Free Collaborative Writing Tool

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Recently, I wrote a short post talking about collaborative writing and I shared the various ways in which students can work together on a document. There are a number of online options, but most of them require the students to register which isn’t always ideal. WriteURL is an online document creator that does not require any registration to create and share documents and also allows users to collaborate on a document in realtime. Here is an overview:


  • Go to WriteURL and click on the ‘New Document’ button.
  • Create a title by editing ‘My Title’ at the top of the document. This will become the title of page in the browser as well.

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  • Along the top you will find various tools. Here they are from left to right:
    • Home button: this will take you to the WriteURL homepage in a new window or tab.
    • Headings: this gives you six heading options
    • Fonts: this gives you five options
    • Bold, Italics, Underline, and Strikethrough
    • Text Color: you can choose from a palate or type in the RGB numbers
    • Line Color: same as text colour, but for borders and lines.
    • Superscript and Subscript
    • Indent
    • Alignments: the usual left, center, right, and justify
    • Line Spacing: there are sixteen options from 0.5 to 2
    • Bullets and Numbering: there are two bullets and five numbering options
    • Special Characters: choose from five different sets
    • Links (add and remove): puts in or takes out a weblink
    • Image: insert an image from a URL and define the size
    • Undo and Redo
    • Share: this will give you Write, Read, and Publish URLs. You also have the option to email it from the program.
    • Export: you can download a Word or HTML file (only works in Chrome)
    • Online/Offiline: this shows you if you are connected to the server or not.
    • Saved: this shows if the document is saved or not (automatically saves when connected)
    • FAQ: a short help index
    • Feedback: you can submit ideas and problems to WriteURL
  • Type your document and WriteURL will automatically save whatever you type as long as you are connected to their server. Other users will also see the changes in realtime.

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  • Once you have created a document, you can have others join in or you can just share it using the Share button along the top. Choose the URL that fits your situation. If you want others to add to the document, give them the Write URL and they will be able to type in your document, even as you are typing and you will see the changes. If they only receive the Read URL, they will only be able to view the document without editing it. Once you have completed the document, you can Publish it using the Publish button under the Share option.

This is a fabulous registration-free writing option and I will likely use this in my classroom. I only wish there was a group option such as in TitanPad, but this works really well and does more than TitanPad.

What do you think? Can you see this being helpful? Share your ideas below in the comment section or send me a tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you!

Collaborative Writing Tools: An Overview

Image courtesy of Tammy Strobel

Image courtesy of Tammy Strobel

I received an email today from one of my former MA TESOL students asking if I could recommend any collaborative writing platforms other than Google Drive. Instead of just sharing this information with one person, I thought a blog post was in order. This post is not meant to be a comprehensive list of sites, but if you feel I am missing any that are worthy of mention, please share them in the comment section below.

Before diving into the sites themselves, I feel it is important to look at the various types of document creation that can be done with others. They break down into three areas:


  • Description: This means that instead of having one cloud-based document that is edited by various people, this is where a single document is shared between different people.
  • Example: This is the way most people used to share documents. They would email it to one another, copy it using an external drive, or would host it on a shared network folder (private network). A scenario would be where one person would make a Word document and would email it to everyone who would then download it, edit it or add comments, and then email back to the sender.
  • Problems: This is a nightmare to keep track of. Sometimes people would overwrite other people’s work, the person who was collecting the data would have to consolidate everything, and it was difficult to know which document was the most current. Added to that, not everyone could see the work that was being done. It was more cooperative instead of collaborative.
  • Suggested Sites:
    • Dropbox: Free website that allows you to host documents to share with others. It synchronizes all of the documents between those who share the document or folder.
    • Box: Similar to Dropbox, but a few functions that allow you to edit documents in Word and then save back to Box.

Hosted, one editor at a time

  • Description: This is where the document is created and hosted on the cloud, but only one person can edit it at one time. Editing is usually done in the browser, but there are some examples of where it can also be done in a word processor running on the computer.
  • Example: Wikis are the best example of this. One person goes in, makes changes, and then exits after saving. Others can’t usually edit while a person is in edit mode, although some wikis will merge data as well (not usually recommended). Changes aren’t ‘live’ until the person editing saves it.
  • Problems: Once again, this is mostly cooperative as opposed to collaborative. Also, people aren’t aware of the changes until it is saved, and some people don’t save their work very often. Lastly, you can’t go in and edit when it is best for you.
  • Suggested Sites:
    • Wikispaces: One of the best wiki sites for education. Teachers can create class spaces and students can create sites without using an email address (they use a code given by the teacher).
    • PBWorks: Similar to Wikispaces, but no student codes so they need to sign up with an email address.
    • Scrawlar: This is not a wiki, but a simple word processor and online whiteboard all in one. Teachers can set up student accounts so students don’t have to give any personal details. When the student saves a document, the teacher can see the changes, but only then. It is a nice site, even with a few limitations.

Hosted, real-time editing

  • Description: This is where document creation and hosting is in the cloud and where anyone with access can edit at the same time with results appearing ‘live’ on the page to everyone.
  • Example: Google Drive is the most common example of this. When you create a document in Google Drive, anyone you give access to can edit it and everyone sees the changes immediately.
  • Problems: This can get a little messy if you have a large number of people editing at the same time. I have even had my information overwritten while I was typing in a shared document. Also, some people feel they would rather work on things in private so others don’t see their work until it is finished. Lastly, you need a good internet connection unless you have set up offline editing (which then becomes more like a wiki).
  • Suggested Sites:
    • Google Drive: This is the most common online office suite that allows for real-time editing and sharing of documents. Lots of tools and integrates with other websites such as Edmodo.
    • OneDrive: This is Microsoft’s online cloud host and editor for it’s office suite. You can edit in your own version of Office installed on your computer, or you can use the scaled-down version on the web. The web-based version allows for real-time collaboration. All in all, this is a really nice site, but still has some limitations.
    • Etherpad (various sites): Before Google Drive and Docs, there was Etherpad. Google took it over, stripped out what they needed to create their online editor, and then open-sourced the code for others to use. It is limited in what it can do, such as with images, but it is quick and simple. I have used one hosted by TitanPad for a number of years, but there is also PrimaryPad, MozillaPad and others using a version for themselves. TitanPad and MozillaPad allow for private groups to be created by teachers which is great for student security.

Like I said at the start, this is just meant to be a brief overview of collaborative writing tools, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below.

Thank you!

Thinkport Annotator Tool: A simple annotation tool with multiple highlighters

Image courtesy of Philippa Willitts

Image courtesy of Philippa Willitts

There are a fair number of ways to annotate a document with software or online tools, but Thinkport’s Annotation Tool is a simple, online tool that allows for teachers and students to markup and annotate a text using a number of coloured markers. The best part is it is free and students don’t need to give their personal information to use it. Here is how it works:

  1. Go to
  2. Choose either Teacher or Student .Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.47.44 PM
  3. Select either to Create a new project or Manage an existing project.
  4. If you create a new project, give your project a unique name and then type in a password for you to manage the project. If the name already exists, you will get an error and you will need to rename it.
  5. If you manage an existing project, you will be asked for the project name and password.
  6. Once you are successful in either creating or logging into a previous project, give your project a name, a subtitle (could be a simple one line instruction), the author of the text, and a citation. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.51.25 PM
  7. Type in or paste your text into the Text to Annotate box at the bottom of the page. There are some font, text, and pasting options in the toolbar at the top of the box. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.51.47 PM
  8. There are a series of highlighters along the left side of the page. Label the colours to match what you would like the students to use that colour for. Only the colours you label will be available for the students when they log in. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.51.36 PM
  9. At the top of the page, there is a Project Instructions button. You can use that to enter instructions for the students.
  10. Once you are done editing, click on the Save button. You can also choose to Save and Send Email, but I wouldn’t suggest it.
  11. Once you are ready to have students annotate the text, give them the main page link along with the project name.
  • Students who visit the main page, click on the Student button and then select Begin your assigned project. They can then enter the project name you have given them and create a new username and password for themselves. This can be used to log back in to edit the project at a later time.  Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 3.01.25 PM
  • To highlight a word, students choose a colour and then just click on the word. You can’t click and drag lick other programs. If you want to highlight multiple words, you click on the first word and then click on the last word. Everything in-between will be highlighted in that colour.
  • Once you highlight something, a box will come up and give you a chance to label your annotation with text. Student can either just save the project to edit later, or can save and submit to the teacher for review.
  • The teacher can then log in and click on Student Submissions to review them and add comments. If you do add comments for the students, make sure to click on Save Comments before leaving the page. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 3.12.09 PM

While this isn’t the most comprehensive of the annotation tools I have used, it provides a safe place for students to use without having to give any personal information away (ex. email address). I also like the labels for the various colours. It’s also quite simple for students and teachers to use.

You can also find hundreds more webtools that don’t require student registration on my list here.

Let me know what you think and share your ideas for how you might use it in the classroom by adding your comments below. Thank you!