I just read a really nice, concise post about MixedInk from Jim Gates, who does a good job of breaking down its key features and highlighting some of its functionality in the classroom. Moreover, the MixedInk website includes a nice tutorial video that also clarifies these features and gives a sense of how the site can be used generally.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
MixedInk Demo on Vimeo
While I’ve been pretty big on EtherPad this summer as a tool I used to give feedback to my Breakthrough Teachers, I did have some problems with it. While the site does distinguish who wrote what via different color highlighting on the text, one cannot figure out who is who unless everyone is logged on and writing simultaneously. As a result, with collaborative writing that takes place asynchronously it becomes difficult to suss out precisely who wrote what, and when. Nevertheless, it remains a good site with its support for exporting the text in a variety of formats and its ease of use without any registration or account creation.
However, I’m planning on using collaborative writing in my classes more extensively this year, but have always had some difficulty with the issue of tracking each individual student’s contributions to ensure that the work is divided and completed equitably. Not to mention all the paper (and alleged printer SNAFUs) that collaborative writing assignments seem to generate. While many students seem to dislike group work, I think the resistance stems more from the fear of being saddled with all the work by one’s potentially indolent group-mates rather than from inherent resistance to collaborative work. In fact, I hope that these sorts of tools will encourage students to look to one another for insights and analysis, and ultimately come to see a peer’s validation and critical commentary as extremely valuable.
As I wrote earlier about my hopes for how Diigo could facilitate research and source-sharing amongst students, I see similar potential for MixedInk in the realm of writing collaboratively and learning to edit and revise effectively. I see particular benefit to introducing students to new genres and types of writing that are often quite discipline specific. For instance, in history I’ve observed that students struggle extensively with analyzing the role point of view (e.g. bias) and historical context play in primary sources. They are very good at summarizing what someone says in a text, but struggle with why they said it.
Perhaps one way to employ MixedInk would be for all the students to read a primary source, annotate it with Diigo, and then contribute a paragraph-long analysis of that source to a collaborative document. Ultimately, the class, through MixedInk’s ratings system, would generate and submit to me what they considered to be the most thorough, complete, and insightful analysis. This singular document could then serve as the jumping off point for our class discussion and analysis of the document and how historians read beyond the content.
Extending from that idea, (and likely the way in which I’ll find myself using MixedInk the most this next year,) would be for students to write document based question essays (DBQs) collaboratively with MixedInk. Proceeding systematically through the assignment, students would be able to spend time analyzing the documents, dissecting point of view and historical context, critiquing (and improving) one another’s interpretations (through the ratings feature,) and then assembling a finished essay by pulling from the repository of writing done by the class. By working together and having all students privy to the process of writing the essay, those students who struggle with task management and pacing would be able to see how others work and get some insight (and hopefully strategies) to help them work more expeditiously when they write essays on their own.
From teacher’s perspective, I also see a number of benefits to the website and its structure. Firstly, if I’m either the creator of a group, or have the students create a group and then invite me to join it, I’m able to monitor the essay’s progress and see who contributes what ideas and substance to the finished product. Imagining a best-case scenario, making the students aware of my insight into their process and individual contributions will encourage everyone to offer substantive additions to the essay. Similarly, the “cut-off date” feature communicates a clear, and digitally firm (read: non-negotiable) deadline to the students, which will (hopefully) push them to avoid procrastinating on the project.
At present I don’t see educator/teacher-specific accounts, though Jim Gates’ post suggested that those are in the works. Currently, the logistics for whole-class writing assignments seem pretty clear; however, I hope that with the addition of some educator-specific functions (e.g. the ability to assign and manage the collaborative writing groups) the site will prove even more functional than I’m presently envisioning it.
A progress report and follow-up will no doubt be forthcoming in a month or so as the countdown to the start of the school year is now t-minus 14 days! (gulp)