I was just invited to observe/join in with a colleague using iEtherpad with an online class. Here are a few thoughts about it’s use.
iEtherpad is the latest take on Etherpad. Actually, only in the internet address is the ‘i’ used – I’m not sure why. Etherpad is a great free collaborative tool for working on a document. It is similar to Google docs, however the synchronous interface seems to work much better in Etherpad.
This was the first time my colleague had used in collaboratively with a class (and the first time I had seen it used properly). I would say the first important thing to remember if you want to use it with a class is to make sure you have already set up some key questions for students to answer on the page. This way they can work in groups and put together a document.
It could be used as a sort of ‘chat’ or question/answer area, but it does have it’s own chat function off to the side (which works well).
iEtherpad assigns colours to each person that is online, however it only has a few colours to choose from and these can easily be used up in which case doubleing-up of colours occurs. When in the main document the text is highlighted by the colour of the person typing it. This is fine unless there are 2 or more people with the same colour. It does not show the name of the person typing it in the document. One clever student actually suggested including their name with what they were writing.
Another issue with Etherpad is that as the number of users increases, the number of people dropping off also increases. Hopefully this issue will be able to be resolved.
The timeline function in Etherpad allows you to see everything that has happened on the document over time. You can go back to a certain point and work on it from there or just see the changes that have been made.
The document can currently be exported as txt or html, however this is not always great. It loses the colours of who has had what input. One way around this is to go into the timeline function and print to PDF. Of course not everyone is able to do this.
Overall iEtherpad is a great tool for collobarative work – and very good for students. It is well worth a look and a play.