Tools for writing and teaching

2010 October 23
by Shane Landrum

This semester is going by in a blur. I’m experiencing most of the hard knocks of running my own class with my own syllabus for the first time; plus, I’m doing job applications, postdoc applications, and trying to finish the dissertation.

Woman writing, early 1920s

Image courtesy of Cornell University Library, via Flickr Commons.

So far, the best tool I’ve found for encouraging me to keep a daily writing habit is It helps you keep track of whether you’ve written something every day. Even if those words you’ve written weren’t especially profound or related to what you want to be writing, the theory is that the daily writing habit will produce more work in the long run. I’m considering signing up for their November one–month writing challenge, but I’m not sure that I will.

Thanks to various people on Twitter, I’ve found a number of different tools I’m using this semester as I teach. I’ve set up a class blog with WordPress for posting news to students and many of the course readings. I’ve been experimenting with using Prezi to build slideshows for my lectures (when I have time). Where I can, I’ve been assigning readings that are available freely on the Internet, but this is more challenging than I might have expected.

Since I’m teaching a survey course that begins in the 1600s, having students read original primary sources is important, but those sources aren’t often readily understandable without explanatory footnotes or marginalia. And there are a number of wonderful sources out there, like History Matters or the Judith Sargent Murray Archive, but almost none of them have the explanatory notes that all textbook companies add when they reprint the same public–domain sources in their course readers.

I really like the idea of using open educational resources, but I want to be able to add my own explanatory paratext when I assign a reading. I’ve thought about using something like CommentPress to build my own primary–sources reader with explanatory comments and questions for students to think about, but I think there has to be a better way. If you’ve dealt with this problem in your classes, particularly if you’ve used WordPress as a courseware platform, I’d be interested in hearing what works for you.

3 Responses
  1. Sharon permalink
    October 23, 2010

    I haven’t tried it out yet (and it’s still in beta and you need an invite code, although they might not be too hard to come by…), but Glass looks like it might be useful for adding comments on top of *existing* webpages for your students to read.

  2. October 24, 2010

    Sharon, browser-based plugins like Glass have been floating around over the last several years, with the idea being that people can add their own notes on top of existing sites. Although it’s an intriguing idea, I’m not convinced, especially in a campus environment where students are likely to be using standardized computing-lab setups that reset to a common disk image for every user.

    I think what I’m really looking for are tools for streamlining the process of remixing public-domain or open-access textual and visual sources on my own websites, so that I don’t have to depend on the vagaries of other people’s websites or browser plugins over time.


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