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Writing Online

Page history last edited by msward 14 years, 1 month ago


Writing Online

Session Description:

You’ve got your SchoolWires page set-up. You know what a wiki is, but maybe you haven’t really used it for more than posting assignments.  But the web isn’t just an online bulletin board to post assignments! How can you take your classroom activities and writing assignments online?  Online spaces can provide wonderful opportunities for teachers and students to learn and collaborate together. This session will focus on how to use online spaces like wikis, blogs, and especially Nings to get students writing for actual audiences. Teachers will walk away from this session with an online writing space set-up as well as lesson ideas for how to get students writing more, writing better, and writing for an audience online.


Missed our recent session on May 18th? Check us out!



Why Write Online?


In his recent English Journal article, "Real-World Writing: Making Purpose and Audience Matter," Grant Wiggins elaborates on why creating authentic audiences for student writers can have such a significant impact on student writing.  When creating online writing opportunities, keep the following in mind:


Ensure that students have to write for real audiences and purposes, not just the teacher in response to generic prompts.

Authentic Assessment Demands:

      • Engaging and worthy tasks of importance
      • Faithful representation of the contexts
      • Nonroutine and multistage tasks -real problems
      • Tasks that require the student to produce a quality product
      • Transparent or demystified criteria and standards


"Real writers are trying to make a difference, find their true audience, and cause some result in that readership," writes Grant. "...the point is to open the mind or heart of a real audience - cause a fuss, achieve a feeling, start some thinking. In other words, what few young writers learn is that there are consequences for succeeding or failing as a real writer."


Further Resources/Research on Creating Authentic Audiences:



What the heck is a Ning?

A Ning is a social network that "...empowers people to create and discover new social experiences for the most important people and interests in their lives. Ning was started with a simple premise: when people have the freedom to create a new social experience online, uniquely customized for the most important people and interests in their lives with no effort, no cost, and infinite choice, the world is a better, more colorful and certainly more interesting place in which to live." Check out www.ning.com to start your own network.


What can you do with a Ning?

  • Create a discussion board where students can respond to your questions and to each other

  • Post assignments or link handouts

  • Enable each student to create a blog

  • Encourage students to respond to one another's posts or blogs

  • Link files, images, audio, and video files


Tour of a Ning


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Tutorial for Creating Your Ning

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What is a wiki?

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From the PBWorks Online Teacher Training Site:

A wiki (from the Hawaiian word 'quick') is a webpage that anyone can edit at anytime from anywhere. Wikis allow for asynchronous collaboration and communication between groups of people. On a wiki many people can edit the page and many people can read the page.


How can I use a wiki in my classroom?

  •  Instructional wikis

Post information for your students to reference outside of the classroom. Wikis are accessible from anywhere, so your students can easily log on to find the most up to date class information.  Post your syllabus, homework, vocab list, additional homework resources, inspirational videos, office hours. On an instructional wiki you are the only editor, your students can read the information but can't contribute. This is not much different from your SchoolWires page.


  • Collaborative wikis

Create interactive lessons where students contribute to the content on your wiki. This is a great way to get students creating and collaborating with authentic audiences online. Students create, publish and post work. On a collaborative workspace students can peer edit and comment on other student's work, work collaboratively and have easy access to a variety of links. On a collaborative workspace, students can edit the page and contribute to the content on the workspace.



How is a wiki different from a Ning?

What can a wiki do that a Ning cannot?

    • It is much easier to create web pages in a wiki.  If you need a large place to collect data, compile information, post files, use a wiki.
    • Additionally, if you are asking students to create presentations or web pages, it is much easier to do on a wiki because not only is there more space, but you can also see who edited the page and when.
    • You cannot lose information from a wiki page unless the entire page is deleted. You can use the "Page History" link at the top of each page to see who edited a page, how, and when.
    • The wiki is also a much easier place to upload and access files.  If you want to share PowerPoints, .pdf files, Word documents, etc. with students, then use a wiki.  


What can a Ning do that a PBWorks wiki cannot?

    • A PBWorks wiki does not have a blogging feature or a threaded discussion feature.  If you are looking for ways to get your students discussing something online, with multiple students logging in and contributing to one page at the same time, a Ning is a better way to go. Only one person can edit a wiki page at a time, making it difficult to do real-time collaboration.
    • A free Ning can be customized a bit more than the free version of the PBWorks.  There are more options for the colors, designs, logos, and features on the free Ning.
    • The privacy features on a Ning, who has access to what information, is a bit better on than those on the free version of the PBWorks wiki.  But, if you upgrade your wiki, there's so much more that you can do with the privacy settings, including establishing groups.
    • A Ning has everything in one spot.  The tabs at the top of the page make it easy to navigate blogs, discussions, videos, etc.



Tour of a PBWorks Wiki Page

  • You've been using a wiki page today.  All the information for this session is on a wiki page.  Notice that you can embed surveys, videos, pictures, and all sorts of hyperlinks.  Now let's see how Jen uses this wiki with her students! 


Tutorial for Creating Your Classroom Wiki

  • PBWorks has created a wonderful site to help teachers put together classroom wikis.  Check out this tutorial page.

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Google Docs


What are Google Docs?

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Taken from WestEnd handout created for Google

Google Docs and Spreadsheets is an easy-to-use, online word processor and spreadsheet editor that enables users to create, store, share, and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and surveys.  If you know how to use any word processing or spreadsheet program, you can easily use Google Docs. You can even upload your existing documents and spreadsheets into your Google Docs account.


How can I use Google Docs in the classroom?

Students can use Google Docs and Spreadsheets to:

    • Work on files anywhere, anytime
    • Get quick feedback from multiple people
    • Make the full writing process visible
    • Demonstrate their mastery of editing skills
    • Quickly analyze and organize data
    • Create and collaborate on group presentation materials
    • Easily share information with larger audiences



Tour of Google Docs

Tutorial for using Google Docs

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Sharing with Collaborators

A Google Doc is created by a document owner (or initially uploaded, as Google Docs will import Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, RTF, HTML or text files) who can then set viewing and editing permissions for others. When sharing the document with specific collaborators, the document owner can allow those collaborators to edit and view the document, or simply to view it. You can also allow the world to view it, but not edit it, by publishing it as a web page.


In the classroom, editing privileges can be used in several ways, such as:

      • Instructor shares a document with all students, such as a sign-up sheet for presentations or group projects

      • Student shares document with Instructor and receives feedback within the document; Instructor can add comments, highlight problem areas, make text changes in a different color, and so on

      • Student shares document with a select group of peers and receives peer review feedback through comments and text changes

      • Group project leader shares a document with other team members to complete a collaborative or cooperative writing assignment


Synchronous and Asynchronous Editing

When collaborating on a document, editors can make changes and leave comments synchronously (although I would only ever attempt this with a few other people at a time before it gets difficult to manage) or asynchronously. One of the benefits of Google Docs is that the document auto-saves almost as quickly as you can type—documents will often have hundreds of revision points, which leads me to the next benefit of Google Docs: the revision history. You can view, compare, and revert to any previous point in your document.


Revision History

The revision history feature was helpful when reviewing drafts of student essays, as the breadth and depth of changes (or lack thereof) were clearly displayed. Doing a quick revision comparison allowed me to determine the amount of time I would spend commenting on that document, and I could group all the lightly revised documents for (relatively) quick feedback.


For my composition students, the revision history was extremely helpful because half of the course grade was based on a portfolio of their work. This portfolio required several drafts of their selected essays, but also a cover letter from the student that explained their revision process for each essay. Although sometimes difficult to navigate, the Google Docs revision history allowed the students to pick specific points in their writing process and discuss the changes between these points, down to the most granular details. Although I told the students ahead of time that they would need to be aware of their writing and revision process in order to talk about it at the end of the course, students reported that the Google Docs revision history was a “life saver.”


Another benefit of the revision history was that it shows when the document was created and when it was last updated. Students told me that they realized early on that they couldn’t lie about the dog eating the homework, so they didn’t try. It’s true—no one tried to pull the old “But I sent it! There must be something wrong with your email” trick. A few students were legitimately able to say that they finished a document before the due date, point to that due date, and thus receive credit for the assignment, with no muss and no fuss about it.



Collaborators can send notifications to other collaborators at any point in the writing and reviewing process. When the e-mail notification is sent, it includes the document title in the subject line. Using a consistent string in the subject line will also allow you to filter these notifications into specific folders (or labels) for each class section. The notifications themselves also allow students to ask for specific feedback, such as “Could you check my thesis statement?” or “I don’t think I have a conclusion. What do you think?” or “Did I cite correctly in the 4th paragraph?” In my class, Google Docs fostered communication—of that I am sure.


Lessons Learned

      • As with any new technology, students will be resistant or at least hesitant. Have clear goals and reasons for using the technology.

      • Be available to answer questions about the application. If possible, devote one class period to hands-on time in a computer lab or to demonstrating the application.

      • Students might not realize the benefits you’re touting until something bad happens. “All your documents are backed up,” I said to them, but this didn’t hit home until one student ran into class one day and said “Oh my gosh, my computer died in the middle of my essay!” I calmly opened my laptop, logged into my account (as I was a collaborator on the document), and showed the student the essay—saved constantly by Google until her computer crashed. It was at that moment that 24 light bulbs appeared over students’ heads and any lingering resistance to the technology vanished.

      • Students will worry about how the document “looks” when printing or exporting, because some of the formatting functions in Google Docs can get a little wonky. Take some time to talk about the layout and formatting tools.

      • No one liked the in-text Google comments, preferring comments in the margin like those produced by Microsoft Word. I completely agree. The in-text comments make for a messy document. However, these comments did ensure that students read them, as they had to take the time to delete the comment before they revised that part of their draft.

      • The revision history can be hard to conceptualize. When students revised their essay, several of them started by copying the first draft and pasting it further down in the document (separated by a line or other indicator) before revising it. I explained that they didn’t have to do that, and that drafts are saved sort of “behind” the text they were revising. That took some time to explain, and I’m not sure all of them quite figure out how “deleting” something from their visual field didn’t actually delete it, but just revised it.

Ways to Connect


Taking it Global Educators (TiGed)

What is TIGed? (front the TiG website) 


As TIG's vibrant global community has evolved, educators inspired by its young members have sought to integrate its resources and focus on action-based learning into their teaching. This was made easier beginning in 2006, with the launch of the TakingITGlobal for Educators (TIGed) program. TIGed allows educators to leverage the resources of the world's most popular online community for youth who want to make a difference - TakingITGlobal.org - in ways that meet the needs of their learning environments.


TIGed is a community of globally-minded educators interested in empowering their students to think and act as world citizens, a collection of resources that facilitate the inclusion of global perspectives in the classroom, and a virtual classroom that allows students to use collaborative technology in order to connect with people from around the world and learn about global issues.


A Community of Global Educators

TIG members who are actively engaged as educators can apply for an educator badge through their profile settings in order to join the TIGed community, a network of thousands of teachers and students from over 70 countries around the world. Collectively, the TIGed community comprises diverse perspectives, expertise, and knowledge and members can potentially learn a lot from one another. TIGed uses technology to make it easier for global educators to connect, share ideas, and work together.


TIGed members can network, communicate, and collaborate in several ways. Having an educator badge allows users to search the member database for educators only, thereby identifying potential friends, allies, and partners. A discussion forum allows educators to share successes, challenges, strategies, and ideas with respect to integrating technology and global perspectives into education. A collaboration database of educators interested in partnering with other classrooms around the world facilitates international learning partnerships. Meanwhile, regularly produced TIGed blogs and newsletters help TIGeducators stay up to date on developments and events related to the TIGed community.

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Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)

Center for Interactive Learning and  Collaboration

 Planning to take your students to worlds unknown?

 Partnering with CILC is a great way to start!


Here you will find information and tools to help make your job easier and to enhance learning through the use of videoconferencing and other collaborative technologies.


BENEFITS:     In addition to searching a variety of databases, membership in CILC enables you to

  • create a Custom Catalog aligned to
    • discipline types and/or topics
    • audience type or grade level
    • national standards
    • learning objectives
  • post collaboration requests in the Collaboration Center.
  • Receive in your inbox
    • Weekly Updates matched to your preferences
    • CILC e-News, published 5 times from September to May
    • e-Flashes sharing special CILC offers, usually once a month
    • e-Updates explaining new website features, usually twice a year
  • access MyCILC.org to
    • manage your CILC member profile
    • View all your collaboration and/or class requests
    • see all the Favorites you've marked as you searched


TAKE THE CILC TOUR: Learn where and how to access all your benefits. 

The tour is a free, live presentation, accessed through the Internet at your computer, which provides a complete overview of www.cilc.org


 View a variety of dates and times and REGISTER

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Welcome to the World's Largest K-12 Learning Network!


ePals is the leading provider of safe collaborative technology for schools to connect and learn in a protected, project-based learning network. With classrooms in 200 countries and territories, ePals makes it easy to connect learners locally, nationally or internationally.

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People-to-People International

From the People-to-People International website:


People to People International's School and Classroom Program is a free service that connects teachers and their students with classes in other countries for pen pal exchanges and projects that improve cultural understanding and encourage friendship. Classes are matched according to similar age and number of pupils to form partnerships. Students interact by exchanging traditional paper letters or email messages supervised by their teacher, who receives a program manual for guidance. Teachers may form partnerships with classes in multiple countries and work together for one or more school years.


Primary, middle and secondary-school classes and youth groups (grades kindergarten-12) from all countries are welcome. To join, we ask teachers or adults, who supervise students, to register. Registration is open during July - October. Registrations submitted before or after this time will be held for the following semester or school year. We will contact you to discuss options.


Register here or contact classroom@ptpi.org.

More Ways to Connect with other Teachers/Classrooms:

Try finding other teachers interested in connecting with your students using one of these sites

Questions and Comments:



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