Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Show Document Rocks

Show Document is a slick freeware app that would make a great supplement for your home brew VLE. It’s strength is the ability to open a document on a white screen that allows viewers to edit or markup the document using a variety of tools – a pen, highlighter, whiteout, Add New Text, and Save to PDF. There is also a small window for text chat, so users can make comments and suggestions while editing the document. It works with most common file types including spreadsheet (.xls) and graphic files.

Without video and audio support, it might not replace Elluminate Live!, WiZiQ or Moodle as your core virtual classroom, but it does have features these others lack, so could complement them, or be used alone supplemented with stand-alone video or audio apps; for example by adding a phone conference using Skype or Gizmo would make the editing process go more smoothly.

It has the added advantage of being very easy to use. Open the app at and you will be prompted to upload a document and to invite participants. You may do so in one of three ways: (1) Send the provided URL and session number to invitees, with instruction to "JOIN" using any third-party channel, Email, IM or MySpace Friends, for example; (2) Send the session link; or (3) Send an Email from the Session startup page. A session begins when you upload your document. You cannot preload a document to be edited at a scheduled time later. A session lasts one hour.

In a synchronous VLE context, not being able to send out the session number in advance of a scheduled session requires a clunky work around – “OK Guys, trust me, at 3:00 PM next Monday be ready to receive (an Email/IM message/phone conference call) with the link and session number for class.” My experience suggests that it takes at least ten minutes to get everyone logged in; the younger the students and the more people invited, the more time required and the less time there is for work. For this reason, I would suggest that virtual classroom use be limited to small groups of two to five students with tightly defined goals.

When the session ends, as a security measure, the document is deleted from the server file; hence, the need for the easy-to-use “Save to PDF” button on the session screen. I didn’t see a countdown timer on the screen, but a countdown popup with a five minute warning would be a great addition for folks like me, who tend to lose track of time when working online.

The editing tools work well and edits made with different tools can be cleared selectively. Using the “Add Text” tool opens a text box at the cursor location. It may take a while to get the hang of lining it up with existing text. In addition to typing in the text box, you can cut-and-paste text from a file on your home screen to the text box on the Show Document screen; be warned, the pasted text initially appears as a text string without word wrap, so a long string (sentence or paragraph) simply runs off the document page. You can use your return key to insert line breaks and your pasted copy will appear within a resized text box, which also can be dragged to another location on the page. If you are using this approach to add text to a co-written document, it would be a good idea to provide lots of white space in the original source document for interlineations and text inserts.

I love the simplicity and ease of use. Show Document has great potential as a language teaching and literacy tool –it works with a dozen or more languages, including Chinese and Arabic. A widget for your web page or blog is available from Show Document. If you are using iGoogle as your home page, add the Show Document gadget. Do check it out; it’s free and the ads are not intrusive (so far).

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