I had been using Etherpad –http://www.etherpad.com
–for a while, but had never experimented its potential as a collaborative tool in the classroom.
Etherpad is one of the best online-based word processors out there not only because it is free (and now open source since Google acquired it) but also because it enables users to create a public pad without having to sign up for an account. Etherpad has many other wonderful features such as easy sharing, author colors and timeslider with different formats to save to.
Perhaps the most important feature for me is to be able to use an online-based word processor that I do not have to sign up for nor sign in. Google Documents is great, but I need to sign in in order to access their word processor. With Etherpad, I am only a click away from starting to type my document.
As soon as users create their public pad, Etherpad gives them a URL that users can email or IM to their collaborators.
Users have their texts highlighted with different colors and their names show up on the sidebar, also provided with a chat tool.
The Timeslider tool enables users to slide through the history of the document. They can do this manually or by hitting play, and watching the history of the collaboration develop. Etherpad offers several formats to save your document including HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word, or Plain Text.
Today, my first-year journalism students took full advantage of this great tool. They wrote articles individually that they later shared with the rest of the class as they joined the public pad that I projected on the screen to the entire class.
The students would correct their documents themselves and also their classmates’. The group-correction process is already a very rich one, and Etherpad only enhances it by the color-identity feature–students and teacher can make corrections and the student can easily identify the corrector by the color.
Students could eventually save the document so that they can review the corrections.
We ended the class with two presentations. Presenters used Etherpad to write their keywords. The rest of the class wrote notes and questions for the presenters using the Etherpad public document.
Etherpad is a free and no-signup-necessary application that offers plenty of possibilities including collaborative writing via sharing URL, highlighted text with a different color per user, a slick Timeslider tool to navigate through the document history, and plenty of formats to save your document.
Etherpad does not take you to the Heavens, but to heights with a great potential to be explored.