ICT Tip: Etherpad allows instant collaborative document editing, no signup required, a great tool for brainstorming!

10 Nov

Update August 3rd, 2010: Etherpad has been purchased by Google and the Etherpad servers are no longer active. However, the same amazing Etherpad technology is still available at the Titanpad website (http://www.titanpad.com) which works the exact same way. Keep reading if you’d like to know more!

Quick overview: EhterPad allows multiple students to work simultaneously on one word processing document over the Internet.  As each student types, their edits appear INSTANTLY in the EtherPad document. To help a group keep track who is typing what, each student’s edits are represented by a unique text color.

How does it work: In many ways, EtherPad is similar to Google Docs which I’ve highlighted in an earlier ICT Blog posting. In a nutshell, both EtherPad and Google Docs allow multiple people to edit a single document at the same time over the Internet.

How is Etherpad different from Google Docs? When multiple people are working in Google Docs, it takes about five to fifteen seconds for any edits to appear. Edits in EtherPad are instant. Google Docs does NOT indicate which person is typing, so things can get confusing with multiple students working in a document at the same time. Lastly, Google Docs requires each user to sign-up and create an account to edit documents, EtherPad does NOT.  The benefit of not having to sign-up for an account is that you can start right away and do not have to worry about lost student passwords and logins.

How can it be used in the classroom: As it only takes a few seconds to start a new Public EtherPad document, this website could be used as a quick and dirty class brainstorming tool. For example, students could divide up and write down common ideas in one single Etherpad document.  Classmates could then refine their own ideas and even those of their classmates. Each student works on a different computer but everyone works in the same document.

How to collaborate: To collaborate on an EtherPad document with other classmates, students can log into the site with a guest account and start working.  They can then share a unique weblink that is automatically associated with each Etherpad document, called an “invite” link.  This link can be copy and pasted into an e-mail or even scribbled down on a piece of paper. However, be careful! The link is case sensitive which means your students need to make sure that they pay attention to all the capital and small letters when writing down the link to share with other classmates.