So having established that you would like to include some online elements to teaching creative writing, either collaboratively or via peer review, what’s out there?
For a start there are blogs and wikis. I’ve already written quite extensively about blogs that allow students to comment on work, share ideas, resources and links. If you’re still not sure how to start, visit Auckland based media studies teacher Hayden Maskell’s blog which has some great resources for formal writing on his blog which could provide a starting point. See the blog roll on this page to link to Hayden’s blog and make sure you acknowledge his work if you do use it.
As part of our elearning course, I’ve created a wiki which at the moment is pretty bare but in the future I definitely intend to use as an online workspace for students. A wiki would definitely enable peer review of work through a communal, online share workspace. Wikis offer the added bonus of instant publishing. Site members can add content (including text, videos or photos) or edit content that others have added. Changes are tracked automatically which lets the administrator (teacher) see at a glance who’s contributing what. Discussion pages allow for more conversation and idea sharing. Privacy controls let the administrator (teacher) determine who has access, and assign levels of interactivity.
Schools are also increasingly using moodles as online spaces to manage content. Moodle’s work much the same as wikis and blogs. You upload content to share with users who can then download/upload their own content for sharing. With a wiki and a moodle you can define access rights so that the users may be restricted to a class list. In English in Aotearoa, April 2010, No. 70 (pp34-39), Christchurch based teacher Brian Hutching outlines his experience using a moodle for a collaborative writing project. The article provides a great overview of his learning objectives and rough timeframe for “teaching’ the unit as well as assessment. Students wrote a novel online by adding chapters to a book based on a theme they had brainstormed together. He used the moodle to reinforce key teaching points such as the role of conflict and climax in plot development.
When it comes to story writing there are a number of sites where you can review or add to stories uploaded by members. Perhaps one of the the best known is FanFiction. The interface isn’t very exciting but this site allows you to rewrite your own chapters based on a books, movies, comics, anime and more. And of course, students must have a basic understanding of plot, characters, setting and theme in order to retell/recreate the story in their own words…There are extensive reviews of writers’ work posted throughout the site.
For creating original work online, you probably can’t go past google docs. The educators page outlines the many and varied uses and has a downloadable pdf you can use to set up an account. Google docs enables you to create and share documents online, upload and edit from anywhere and share changes in real time. Once you’ve helped set up free accounts for your students, they’ll be able to access spreadsheets, documents, and presentations anytime from any connected computer. In theory at least, that means no more misplaced assignments! It also means you can see what students are working on – and provide timely, formative feedback while their projects are still underway. Students can use Google Docs to view and respond to each other’s work as well providing opportunities for co-operative learning and peer review. You’ll find some ideas on how to use google docs here and here.
Other sites I have had a cursory play with (most have an introductory video on the homepage so you can quickly see if they might work for you – all are free!) include:
- Plotbot – allows you to write screenplays in your browser. You can write a script with as many or as few people as you want.
- WriteWith – allows students and educators to upload documents, share tasks, assign tasks, chat, and track actions
- ReviewBasics – allows users to upload documents, images, and videos that can be viewed by a specific group for commenting, annotating, and marking
Whichever application you decide to try, remember that technology should always be secondary to the story telling. A fair amount of teaching needs to take place before encouraging your kids to unleash their creative talents online collaboratively or otherwise. So teach the basics, spice that up with some online interactive activities (grammar games etc), discuss what constitutes good writing, set the parameters, introduce the online element and watch them fly!