Write About

I am a fan of the general educational benefits of writing with a personal interest in writing or authoring to learn. I see authoring as a “go to” technique that can be helpful to learners with any content area and at any age. In addition, authoring offers the opportunity to write for others increasing the authentic feel of the experience and often incorporating the cognitive benefits involved in “teaching to learn”.

These interests result in a constant search for tools and environments that facilitate authentic authoring. I end up writing about my finds (writing and writing must be some kind of meta thing).

Write About is an online service implementing many of the ideas I value. Their mission statement (what I would call it) goes like this – “A community where students engage in high-interest writing for an authentic audience and teachers help students grow through the entire writing process”.

Write About offers a flexible environment offering support and guidance or the opportunity to be entirely self-directed. Among the features are the following:

  • Proposed topics within genres to serve as prompts
  • Commenting and feedback tools. For students, these include suggestions for what to avoid to comment or offer feedback effectively and comment and feedback stems.
  • Multiple methods for sharing products
  • Recognition of security and privacy concerns with control over multiple levels of sharing. Teacher and author sign off is required for truly public sharing. Participation of learners under the age of 13 is assumed to involve parental permission.

How would a service like this be different than say Google Docs within the Google Apps for Education environment? I would suggest that you could likely accomplish most of the same things, but the Write About environment is designed to be a teaching/learning environment (with prompts, feedback stems, built-in sharing opportunities). Google docs would have superior multimedia capabilities.

What about cost? Writing About offers multiple plans with features and the amount of use varying by plan. I would suggest that the free plan is mostly useful for experimentation and it is probably more practical to purchase by the month or year for serious application.


Evidently, a good idea is not good enough

I am a news junkie and I have been using a product called Circa when I read on my phone. I opened Circa this evening and the lead was that Circa is going on hiatus (shutting down).

I became interested in Circa when reading the Jeff Jarvis book “Geeks bearing gifts”. Jarvis writes about innovation in the news industry and used Circa as an example. Circa proposed that no one wants to read extended articles on a mobile device and came up with a way of “atomizing” content. The idea is to break a story down into the main idea and supporting pieces and allow readers to take in as much as they want. Circa also attempted to follow stories over time so if you wanted to follow a given story you would receive additional updates. I offer an extended description and thoughts on the potential of this approach as a general model for content presentation in a previous post.

I am not certain where Circa thought it was going with its cool idea. It did not contain ads and access is free. This has worked for other companies (e.g., Twitter), but sooner or later investors evidently want to see the money flow.

This analysis from The Verge describes various difficulties.

  • News is a difficult content area
  • There was no monetization plan
  • The atomized approach does not share easily.

One of the reasons given bothered me. The author suggested people no longer want information that is cold and rational, they want entertainment and emotion. The author described the summarization methods employed as “flavorless bullet points” (if I remember correctly). Yes, ed tech types, this does sound like death by PowerPoint.

I see this assumption that we need to entertain everywhere. Whatever happened to just learning because learning itself is interesting.