The Incredible Potential of Google Docs and WordPress: Now Commonly Used But Un-Maximized Tools!

I decided not to venture out too far from the ground Jeff has covered in past sessions – I’m looking for platforms and tools that can facilitate collaborative writing toward a product for a particular assignment, and find Google Docs (which I used this past semester, though not to its fullest) and WordPress to be useful for my assignment – so I mined Jeff’s “Links” section for guides and models using both of these. 

Under the “Blogging and Annotation” heading on the links page, you’ll see an open source draft of the soon-to-be-published academic book Web Writing that uses CommentPress, a WordPress plugin, to facilitate an open peer review process from any reader (even me!). The book is written by academics who use web writing in their courses, and the chapter “Collaborative Writing, Peer Review, and Publishing in the Cloud” by Jack Dougherty (a professor of education at Trinity College) is a fantastic model of constructive group feedback to a writer’s work and a very helpful how-to guide in using both Google Docs and WordPress in the classroom to facilitate learning together.

Dougherty not only embeds visual and video examples of features, but he provides contexts and rationales for the pedagogical use of these features by explaining how and why he used them for particular assignments. I wonder if this kind of mult-imodal text interactivity would be appropriate for student work (I’m thinking definitely!). Exploring the multi-modality of traditional text-based essays is certainly more possible if final pieces are submitted via WordPress. 

We can see these assignments in more detail on his extraordinary blog which he uses as a central hub for his course (a separate one for each course). From this page, you can navigate to view assignments and student work, which consists of shorter form blog entries as well as larger research projects that have actually been published. You can also see Jack’s own site, which serves as a platform for his scholarship and links to other courses he has taught (and created separate hubs for on WordPress). To me, this is a really powerful hacking of the traditionally closed systems of both scholarship and teaching: not only can you see how students have been able to “write on” each others’ work, and how Dougherty himself allows you to do the same with his own scholarship (a wonderful example of practicing what you preach and of opening up the process of academic publishing to include a potentially wider variety of voices), but you can share your work with anyone. The simple fact that I am able to view Dougherty’s work and to take from him what I find to be useful is astounding to me. 

The potential value of these tools/platforms to help my students to create work together for an audience that is not just me is enormous; the downside, which Jeff has mentioned previously, is the number of hours it would require to initially set up a course hub like Jack has done. Once the front end work is done, however, it seems like communication between student and teacher and between students and each other is made easier. My FITT project is a collaborative rhetorical (or possibly discourse) analysis of an object – in the past, this has been an individually composed text-based essay of an advertisement. With the possibility of having multi-modal products submitted via WordPress, perhaps the object of analysis could shift. I’m interested in asking students to analyze the rhetoric of a web site’s design (interactivity, user accessibility, etc) or, alternatively, the development of a news story across media (how do different programs shape this supposedly fact-based story?). This final option seems particularly ripe for the kind of collaborative web writing seen in Dougherty’s work. Thoughts?

a.nnotate.com – an online annotation tool

One of my goals this summer was to find a tool for collaborative annotation of pdfs. Annotating plain text is easy; there are a lot of tools for it, starting with Google Drive. But pdfs are more complicated.

This one, a.nnotate.com, looks promising. It doesn’t seem to do all the very many things I would like it to do, but it does seem to do quite a bit:

  • Pdfs, images, and screenshots of webpages can be annotated
  • Documents can be shared individually or in group folders
  • Annotations can be shared and replied to
  • Annotations can be tagged

It’s hardly perfect. The biggest qualm I have about adopting it is that it’s a freemium service, and free accounts limit the number of documents that can be uploaded (though not how many annotations can be made).

I also would love if collaborator annotations would be hidden until a student added his/her own, so they wouldn’t be influenced at first, nor would feel some pressure to find a blank spot to annotate once the “good” spots were already taken. I have a feeling, though, that I’ll never find that feature, except on hard copies.

I would also love if students could color code their annotations. While It’s possible to change the background and font colors of annotations, the colors are only seen when someone opens up a note, not when someone looks at the page.

Remixing College English

Remixing College English is a very reflective blog authored by an instructor, not a student. (It was surprising difficult to find student blogs; I probably need to use different search terms: first year composition blog.) It’s a good model for my own reflective practice, but can also be a good model for students. It might be interesting for students to see their instructors wrestling with their classes.

A brief look at the entries, however, gives me the impression that these are not blog posts as much as lengthier, reflective entries. The entries are quite long, and they read as more polished and less spontaneous.

Good Nonfiction Writing Blogs

Hello, Web Writers,
I actually subscribe to very few blogs — I can’t tolerate too many emails urging me to read bloglogothe daily poem, etc. — but I do subscribe to Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog. I have found several occasions to link to a post for use in my writing course. The blog posts often ask writers to discuss their contributions to Brevity Magazine — a quarterly publication of flash nonfiction.

I also like a blog called Essay Daily. I have used this post, by an author named Stephanie G’Schwind, for classroom discussion. In it she discusses one possible structure of a long narrative essay, an assignment in my course. I think these sorts of posts can be easily accessible to students, introducing ideas that might be more complicated to discuss in traditional textbook format.

Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool

In looking for model blogs, I was immediately drawn to the HASTAC site we looked at in our scholarship circle. Adrianne Wadewitz’s blog posts seemed especially useful in helping me plan assignments that integrated technology into 120’s focus on reading and thinking rhetorically (and digitally) about how knowledge is constructed. This post called “Teaching With Wikipedia” gives a rationale and practical advice on how to facilitate student interaction with this crowdsourced body of knowledge.