Online tools for student writing and publishing

Last week an English teacher popped in to get ideas on how her students could create a web site to showcase their final writing project. In the past, her students learned how to use Microsoft FrontPage and then copied their web pages to a CD, not publishing to a web site. Since FrontPage has been discontinued, the instructor was considering using Dreamweaver, another web editor program. While this would be a viable option, I couldn’t help but think of other options.

First of all, I’m a firm believer in using technology to help make your job (and your students’ work) easier. Of course, I don’t always follow that rule, but I work with technology, and I’m supposed to learn how to use it in various ways. That ALWAYS requires a lot of work, patience, and some luck. Oh, and also a sense of humor. But for your students, you want technology to lighten their load, to make their work look better than it could without it, and to make it engaging. Students might not be too happy if they have to learn how to use some new software for an English class. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to make this possible. Students don’t need to learn html to create web pages. They have many, many options. Here are some possibilities for you to research and ponder:

  1. If you want simple, static web pages, then Google pages is available, free, and easy to use. Web pages templates are easy to use and students can have their work up and running in no time. And for most writing projects, you would want your students work to be published online. This gives them an instant audience and may provide that extra incentive for them to proofread and make it the best they can.
  2. For a more interactive, dynamic look, feel, and experience, wikis are perfect. I like wikispaces, but wetpaint is another great wiki service. Again, these are free. You can add people to your wiki to edit and make comments. Most wikis have discussion tabs too, where your readers can write comments.
  3. Don’t forget about the ease and flexibility of blogs. Right now I am a WordPress fan, but blogger.com has been a favorite standby of mine for years. You can create individual or group blogs. Again, blogs offer the ability to comment, but others cannot edit your web pages, like a wiki. The neat thing about a blog is that is can be used for students to write their paper, get comments/feedback from other students and faculty and use this as their rough draft process. Then, they can put together a final post on their blog or use Google pages to display their complete paper.
  4. Online applications such as google docs and zoho writer are also options. Students can write their papers in these online applications, access them from any computer, add others to their document for comments and revisions and then even publish this paper online. As they continue to revise their paper, their published version is updated, too. Pretty neat, huh?

There are many advantages to using these free and very powerful online tools. First and foremost, they make work productive, easy, and enjoyable for your students. Second, you and others can easily find and review their work. They offer ways for public review and students experience authenticity and ownership in their writing. When you write for an audience, it suddenly becomes much more interesting and important. Another possibility is that they may just give your students the nudge to START writing. Sometimes this is the hardest part. But if you tell them they need to have something posted to their blog by a certain date, and they know that others will be reading it, well . . . that might be all it takes. Then, once they are started, writing becomes a bit easier.

Take a look at these tools and try them out with your students. See what they think. And let me know what you think.

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