Etherpad is a real-time, collaborative note taking tool. It requires no sign-in or installation.
It’s a good example of less is more: using your browser, you create a simple, temporary web page and send the link to your students. They then join in writing.
In my experience, this can be a great time saver. I recently attended an hour-long training session were we wasted fifteen minutes getting everybody logged into Google Docs.
Regarding the less: formatting is minimal, inactive pages are quickly deleted and there is no security.
The security issue is worth considering. It is possible that a stranger could vandalize your lesson. If you create a cryptic URL, it’s not likely, I think. I used Etherpad for a study group in graduate school and, even after a 12 weeks, no outsider found our discussion. If you create a page for a lesson or short unit, I think it is extremely unlikely that anyone would bother you. Just be aware that this could happen.
If one of your own students vandalizes the page, there is a time slider to restore past versions.
Etherpad has the standard export options if you need a record of the class/session. An inactive page gets deleted fairly quickly. (a good feature, IMHO.) If you are creating a permanent on-line document, Google Docs or a wiki is a better tool.
Etherpad was acquired by Google and then released as open-source (thank you!), so there are a number of sites which offer it by other names and variations. The history is here.
Here are a few free sites using Etherpad software:
- https://etherpad.mozilla.org “MoPad”
http://sync.in/ (use the free version)
- http://beta.etherpad.org/ (demonstration site but seems to work fine)
- http://titanpad.com/ TitanPad (ignore the bragging!)
- http://shamblespad.com/ ShamblesPad
- http://piratepad.nl/ PiratePad
The source code is here although I’m not sure why a librairy would want to install their own – inside an intranet, maybe?
Description: on-the-fly, collaborative note taking
License: free and open-source.
Alternatives: Google Docs, wikis
Rating: very useful