A few weeks ago I was given a tip by a colleague, which had worked well with her classes. She used a website called TypeWith.Me, which is a simple website, allowing an individual to create a document which other users can contribute to if they know the URL. After arriving at the website, it takes a single click to create a document (this is in fact your only option). You then share the link with pupils, who write their name and are assigned a colour so that it’s clear who is contributing. A downside is that if you lose the connection you get reassigned a different colour, but this is not a major problem.
I’d been meaning to try this since being given the tip, and managed to work it into a couple of lesson plans last week. The VG1 class who used it first were asked to look at three questions in the textbook and then were told to click on a link in It’s Learning (the learning platform used in some (all?) schools in Buskerud), which led them to a newly created page “type with me” page. The pupils took a little while to get used to using the document, but the majority took it seriously and we had a reasonable discussion. You definitely have to have your wits about you….
- It is possible for users to delete other user’s comments, including comments by the document’s creator.
- If you don’t press the return key, two or more users may end up writing on the same line, making comments more or less unintelligible.
- People can comment on different parts of the discussion, so you may find several discussions happening simultaneously.
Some other features of TypeWith.Me include a timeslider, which allows you to see the order in which comments were added to the discussion, and the facility to save a document in different formats (doc, pdf, html etc.).
I used the same website in a VG2 class the following day, with less success. The class had had some time to research a topic, and then rather than a verbal class debate with notes on the white board, I asked them to go into It’s Learning. I thought we could try the conference feature (also a beta release), but soon saw that it would take a little more thought to use successfully. For one thing, a comment only showed up on screen when it was complete, so it was difficult to know who was replying to which point. I quickly switched over to TypeWith.Me, but for some reason the pupils didn’t settle down and use the document for a useful discussion; the majority were more interesting in deleting other people’s comments and generally fooling around. The few who did take it seriously probably felt that they were in the wrong place.
Why should a class of older students get less out of this than a younger, (presumably) less mature group? Maybe it was too close to being a chatroom, and so they found it hard to remember that they were actually in class supposedly discussing the results of their research. Maybe because the VG2 group were rather more passionate about the topic, and there’d been quite a lot of rivalry between the groups during the research period. Maybe because it was Friday…
I’ll be trying TypeWith.Me in class again today, and will hopefully be able to replicate the initial success with using this site. I feel that it has potential to be a useful digital tool in the classroom, and with a little more experience should be able to give the pupils a few guidelines in advance. Bear in mind that this can only be used by 16 people at a time, and that users can delete other people’s comments. I’m sure this isn’t the only application of this nature out there. As mentioned, It’s Learning has a conference feature, and I’ve also heard rumours that NDLA has something similar, although I couldn’t find this after a brief search.
Have you used TypeWith.Me, or another chat-based function in class? What were your experiences? Do you have any tips on how to get the most out of this type of online discussion?