I had a very interesting experience with one of my classes this past Friday using the online application Etherpad. Etherpad is an online application that lets you set up a pad where multiple users can type using the shared URL. The program records the typing session, saving every version of the pad, and identifying each user with a different name and color. I have already blogged about the educational benefits of Etherpad.
For my latest class project, I set up an Etherpad for each group so they could show their work. I told the students that if they did all of their research and writing on the Etherpad, I would only require one term paper per group, since I would have a record that every student in the group contributed to the paper.
This Friday, we were working in the library on the project. One of my students was absent. His partner called him and asked him to open the shared project wiki page and their Etherpad. Throughout the period, I watched as the 2 students researched and chatted together their ideas on the pad, one student in front of me in the school library and the other at home. By the end of the period, they had made substantial headway in their research and had even come up with an idea for an exciting visual presentation of their work.
I then realized one of the tremendous benefits of Etherpad and other Web 2.0 technologies. Since these applications allow for real-time group collaboration with the same give and take as a regular class, there can be no more sick days or snow days for that matter. Students can be working together, on task and participating, wherever they may be. The assistant principal happened to be in the library and I asked him if I should mark this student absent since even though he was not physically in school he clearly did his work. The principal said to mark him absent for the class but give him credit for doing his class work. Go figure.