OSU Grad Teaching Workshop Post #8: Random Computer Lab Tools That I Like

Well kids, I spent this morning Riding the Silly Bus for English 110, so I’m a little pooped in the instructional composition department.  But I know you are hungry for more delicious teaching technology, so here’s three quick and tools for your computer lab teaching:

1. Typewith.me for easy-bake collaborative online documents: Having students produce collaborative documents is always fun and has multiple applications in the classroom, but many platforms require students to log in (like Google Docs) or have moderately steep learning curves (like Wikis that require Wiki markup language to do anything besides plain text), or they don’t update in real time and take fifteen jillion clicks before students can get there and update content (Ohio State’s CarmenWiki).

So what’s a collaboration-friendly computer lab teacher to do?  Rejoice and behold the the mighty Typewith.me, which is based on the now-defunct Etherpad framework and debuted earlier this summer.

Typewith.me is stupid simple and has tons of teacher-friendly advantages:
–it updates in real time, automatically.
–no account needed for the creator or the contributors.  Anyone who has the URL for your Typewith.me interface can add to the document.
–each contributor is auto-assigned different background color for their text so that you can see who added what.  If you prefer, you can go to the “Options” menu and blank out all the colors for readability.
–there’s a chat window built into the right-hand side of the.
–you can export the document to all kinds of post-it-on-course-management-site-friendly formats like .DOC and .PDF., which means you can keep your student’s creation and put it on Carmen for all posterity (and in your teaching binder to ooh and ahh those job interviewers).

So what’s the catch, you ask?  A Typewith.me document can only have 16 students.  That’s not enough for 24 English 110 students, but think outside the box a little: if you put them in pairs, your 24 students will only equal 12 document collaborators, plus you, for a total of 13.  And if you REALLY REALLY wanted all 24 English 110 students to make individual contributions, you could put 12 in one Typewith.me document and 12 in the other and then manually combine the content yourself for projection/saving purposes.

2. Divvy up tasks with Divvyus, a brand new tool launched this past summer.  Divvyus is designed for events like potlucks, parties, and other events where dispersed groups of people need to divide up a task.  If you’ve ever tried to sort out a potluck “bring” list via email, you’ve lived the hell that Divvyus tries to eliminate.  And look how easy it is: just fill in the tasks that you want to Divvy, send the newly generated URL to the people you want to divvy the task, and let ’em pick it over.

As I so often find myself saying on this blog, the teaching applications are endless.  Examples off the top of my head:
–Divide up groups in computer lab to analyze different sources or sections of a text
–Let students self-select into interest groups
–Give a list of meeting or presentation times and let groups duke it out
–Break up virtually any complex task

3. Quick and dirty image editing online with Picnik – One fine day, your students will internalize that “visual rhetoric is important” thing you’ve been bantering about, and they’ll be so excited that they’ll want to edit an image right there in the computer lab.  Like, for example, maybe they want to crop the Solo Cup out of their Facebook photo so that they can use it as an avatar on their Blogger blog, thereby encouraging and building community spirit on the blog (yes, that WAS a passive aggressive encouragement to get all your students to put avatars on their Blogger profiles.)

Trust me, you want to teach your student Photoshop “on the fly” like you want to teach someone to drive a stick-shift car “on the fly.”  So it’s time to get friendly with Picnik, a free no-account-needed online photo editor that allows you to do all the basic stuff you’d need: cropping, resizing, etc.  Here’s me pretending to crop a photo on Picnik:

Ahh, look how easy and intuitive the interface.  Speaking of easy and intuitive, see that horse in my screenshot?  I’m off to ride him now before this screen glare finally gets to me!  Happy T Minus 2 Days to OSU Fall Semester!

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