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February 14, 2008 / Ben Chun

Frontline Essays

It’s a lovely view when a class of freshmen has Google Docs open, giving each other comments on their writing, and cranking away on the body of a 5-paragraph essay. (Google Docs has a cute pink skin for Valentine’s Day, but it only showed up for some of the students.)


Earlier this year, I tried to assign a 300-word paper about Google search techniques. It was a disaster, and in retrospect that was probably the case because I didn’t structure their work well enough. (I mean, I tried, but I think the topic was a bit abstract, and they didn’t have any idea where to go with it.) I actually had some students turn in the planning worksheet as if that were the project. Depressing.

This time around, we started with some Moodle discussions about the Frontline documentary “Growing Up Online”. These forum discussions functioned as prewriting. I wish I could say I planned it that way, but I didn’t really know where it was going when we started. Patrick’s comment on my post about youth privacy made me realize that I could take this one to essay-land. Since then, I have had the students structure their ideas in an outline, and write an introduction paragraph. Today they’re writing the body — three paragraphs in two hours isn’t so much to ask, is it? Tomorrow we’ll do the conclusions, and they will have bashed out a 5-paragraph essay in a week.

So far, none of them have picked up on the meta-point that they were using online forums to have a discussion about growing up online, and that they are using an online word processor that enables collaborative writing work. Maybe it’s better that way — more focus on the functional issues and less focus on, “Wow, it’s the future already”.



Leave a Comment
  1. patrickD / Mar 3 2008 8:58 pm

    Would love to see a larger, perhaps even legible, version of that screen shot.

  2. Ben Chun / Mar 3 2008 9:08 pm

    I had some concerns about student privacy. I think it’s safer for me not to show the world exactly who was writing what.

    Also, Windows doesn’t have an even half-decent way to take a screen shot built in. So what you see here is the output of MS Paint saving as a GIF.


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