Text becomes our voice in digital space. In the land-based classroom, we speak. In the online classroom, we compose. What we write, the way that we write, and our interactions with the writing of others determines who we are in the online or hybrid classroom. Critical pedagogy, the tradition of progressive, socially and politically conscious teaching, asserts that our voice is an expression of our power. As such, the way we write establishes an authority about which we should be conscious.

Several free web tools open possibilities for quick, collective textual exchange that allow dynamic interaction.

Google products are ubiquitous across the web, and many instructors have utilized Google Docs for sharing information with students. Google Docs becomes, for many users, the equivalent of a sharable file cabinet of digital texts. It’s easy to upload a scanned document (a reading assignment, for example), share it to specific students, or make it publicly available on the web.

A recent start-up company has created an online writing and collaboration tool that provides some perks that Google Docs does not. Crocodoc permits users to upload, share, and annotate various forms of online documents. Instructors can create folders, tag them as public, and give students a link to submit their papers. Once uploaded, every member of the class can see everyone else’s work for annotation, collaboration, and peer review. Unlike Google Docs, Crocodoc texts are frozen upon upload. This allows users to comment on a static draft, without the author’s ability to change things as or after they comment. It’s a good tool to mark the changes that occur between drafts.

Finally, Diigo is a social bookmarking and annotation tool that permits users to collect web content, annotate it, and share groups of bookmarked content with others. Diigo can be helpful for teams of students collaborating on a research project; all team members can add content to a common Diigo list and attach commentary to each marked page. Collections of web documents are helpful to demonstrate bibliographic skills. Additionally, an instructor can add content to a shared Diigo page, essentially making a course pack of free content for students to use like an online textbook.

There’s a lot more to find out about each of these document markup tools. For now though, let’s imagine some additional ways that these tools could be useful:

  • Opening and sharing a document in which everyone in the class can contribute to note-taking on a reading selection.
  • Assigning two students to collaborate on a writing assignment in which both must compose parts of the assignment and both must edit and revise (this works best with a reflection activity at the end to discuss the process).
  • Posting a running list of assignments or assignment sheets in which students could collaborate or ask questions on the assignments.
  • Collecting a running bibliography on a themed project in which every student would have to contribute sources and all students would have access to the compiled list.