When you want your class to be able to collaborate on writing there are several ways of doing so. One way of doing this is to make use of an online tool which permits real-time collaboration with multiple users all at the same time. Etherpad-type tools or writing pads (of which there are several) provide the facility to have several pupils working on the same document while using different computers and from different locations. More than one person can edit the same document at the same time and everybody’s changes are instantly reflected on all screens. Wikipedia describes etherpads as: “Anyone can create a new collaborative document, known as a “pad”. Each pad has its own web address (URL), and anyone who knows this address can edit the pad. Password-protected pads are also possible. Each participant is identified by a colour and a name. The software auto-saves the document at regular, short intervals, but participants can also save specific versions (checkpoints) at any time. A “time slider” feature allows anyone to explore the history of the pad.”
This can then be used where you have multiple computers available in a class, or ICT suite, or for collaborative writing between classes in different schools. Features of writing pads are:
- when a user logs on (and adds their name) any writing they add, deletions or writing they make, are indicated on the shared writing space in a colour specific to them.
- there is the facility to use a time-slider – so users can slide the writing back to any chosen previous version – handy to see the writing as a process of thoughts (and to go back to a previous version if corrections are later desired to be revised.
- text can be imported or copied and pasted from elsewhere (so a starting document can be used for collaborative real-time editing within the writing pad)
- the edited writing pad document can be exported as a document (or can simply be copied and pasted elsewhere).
- they are free to use as public versions (when you generate a new writing pad it generates a new writing pad with a long string of random characters in the web address, this address then to be shared with users perhaps by email with whom you wish to collaborate and which makes it unlikely to be found by uninvited others).
Each writing pad available also has features specific to them. Some restrict the number of users, some the length of time they will be available in public (without paid subscription). For classroom use clearly teachers would wish to consider who can see the document and some paid-for subscription versions can provide locked-down private writing pads. Writing pads are intended for real-time collaboration between people. They are not meant for long-term document storage – so for working on a piece of work at a particular stage of the writing where it would benefit from real-time multiple user collaboration the writing pad provides a tool which can be very useful. Copy and pasting a starter document from elsewhere, and then doing likewise at the end of the collaborative working session means the tool fills a gap for short-life tasks.
Some of the writing pads available are shown below:
http://primarypad.com/ Aimed specifically at schools the basic free features of Primary Pad include: unlimited pad creation, 30 days until your pad is deleted, up to 15 people collaborating on a pad, chat functionality, 50 revision saves, and time slider to see how your pad has evolved. With a paid for professional account users get image import and support, pad management, password security, your own subdomain, facility to create templates, delete pads, embed pads into your website/blog/vle, document import and export, and facility to watch changes in real time across multiple pads. PrimaryPad was conceived by a teacher and has features specifically for use in classrooms. In addition it has a getting started guide, lesson ideas, lesson plans and a help guide for teachers. There is an option to generate QR codes for sharing with others to access a shared pad, and a colour picker for a wider range of colours to identify individual users. Also there is a collection of ideas shared by other teachers available. And there is support, a user community, wiki and blog where ideas or issues can be shared and resolved.
The video below provides a tutorial to using PrimaryPad:
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http://meetingwords.com/ Up to 32 people can type on the same document at the same time in Meeting Words. You can use it right away without any sign-up, it is free and your text is stored on the web so you can access it from any computer. You can also invite other people to type with you. Pads may be deleted if they haven’t been used in more than seven days.
http://titanpad.com/ – Titan Pad lets you create a private password-protected pad for free. It also has a free public pad option which requires no registration. Public Pads in Titan Pad are accessible by everyone who has access to the URL. So public pads are best used only for shortlived non-sensitive information. The free private pads created with Titan Pad are by default only accessible by users who have an account in the free subdomain you create or who have been provided with a password. Public Pads are limited to 8 simultaneous users. Private Pads have no limits on users but the Titan Pad help-page suggests that usability degrades with too many users all working simultaneously.
For other alternatives to the above see also http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20004686-248.html
Whichever writing pad best suits your need they provide a tool for pupils or staff to work together on collaborative writing for any purpose, such as story or report writing, or for meeting notes, brainstorming/thought-showering sessions, homework, and more. Text on a writing pad is synchronized as you type, so that everyone viewing the page sees the same text. This allows you to collaborate seamlessly on documents. Used for short-term tasks which require the immediacy of collaboration in real-time (and where the end results are then copied and pasted for storage elsewhere) they are a useful tool for the classroom.