Today for week 3 of my “Technology 4 Teachers” class, I introduced students to a backchannel using Etherpad. This was my first time to use Etherpad with students, previously I’ve used Chatzy as well as the chat feature within Google Presentations. The first big surprise was there is a 16 simultaneous user limit for Etherpad currently. Google bought AppJet (creators of Etherpad) back in December of 2009, and new paid accounts are currently not available. Free pads can still be created and used until the end of March 2010. The fact that students did not have to create accounts and could IMMEDIATELY start collaborating on Etherpad was WONDERFUL.
I really liked how Etherpad provides a shared document space, with everyone having their own text color automatically, as well as the chat area. The design and functionality reminds me of the Mac-only software SubEthaEdit, which I used a few times with collaborative teams in 2003-2005. The chat window on the right side is ok, but it’s great the focus of the collaborative space is a shared document. I used this to better effect in my second class than in the first today.
The most amazing thing about Etherpad, however, is the “time slider” view which allows anyone to re-create the document collaboration as it happened. You can move a slider at the top of the Etherpad and dynamically show the change over time in the document as edits were made. This is AMAZING!
I am glad Google opted to release Etherpad as an open source project, but I certainly don’t have the geek-quotient to take that code and put it on my own hosted server. I’d love to have my own installation of Etherpad to use with students in my classes as well as in presentations / workshops. I’m wondering if this is something I could affordably outsource using a site like RentACoder?
Has anyone setup Etherpad for educational use on your own server, or do you know of someone who has? What’s the best way to go about getting Etherpad setup privately on a hosted server account? (Like Siteground or Bluehost)
Learn more about backchannels in Scott H. Snyder’s 2008 K-12 Online Conference presentation, “Back-channels in the Classroom.”
Have you had experiences, good or bad, using backchannels with students in 1:1 settings? Do you have other backchannel recommendations in addition to Chatzy and Etherpad? Scott referenced Backnoise, Chatterous, and TodaysMeet in his presentation, but I haven’t used any of those or seen them in action yet to form opinions.
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