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Online Collaboration December 31, 2005

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Students, Writing.
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writely  Last year I had the honor of working on an education sub-committee of the Governor’s Committee on Innovation and Technology. At one point between meetings I had to get four participants together who were spread throughout the state. We used a conference call, speaker phones, and I acted as secretary noting every change in the text onto a web page then hit the “update” button frequently. 

Now along comes Writely from writely.com that would have made the task vastly simpler. The service basically allows you to create a document that other may edit online simultaneously. I was itching to try out the online tool with students, perhaps by giving them the task of taking collaborative notes, or with grad students or professors who were working on a document. 

The opportunity came sooner than expected and from students in a grade five class. My daughter’s friends called to invite her to begin planning for the Science Fair. They were going to all meet in an MSN Instant Messenger conversation to start their planning. 

Their plan, of course kept under tight wraps at this time, needed to be written out in some detail but the girls would not all be together in the same place until school started up again. I offered the Writely tool to the girls and they jumped at it. 

After a few minutes of false starts where I had to figure out that I should turn off the pop-up blocker, we had a document stored on the Writely site and all the girls we logged in. My suggestion was that they each write their name to show they were logged in and the tool was working. They had their own ideas and began writing nonsense words which they then bolded and colorized. It was their way of figuring out the limitations of the system. 

I will have to write a paper on how students approach new online word processing tools. For myself, I look at available fonts and the ability of the tool to hyperlink to other documents. The girls wanted to see it they could brand their texts with colors of choice. There may be other features they wanted to use but I was not able to witness them as they tested it out. 

I should note that Writely has the following warning: 

To comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, at this time Writely is only available to users who are at least 13 years old. If you are under 13, please do not use the Writely service. 

However, each girl had a Dad over her shoulder as we were experimenting with the tool and each Dad’s e-mail address was added to the list of e-Collaborators. 

There are other tools for such online editing that I have just discovered and I’m keen to try them, including one called Synchroedit.

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