Using etexts in the classroom

A recent request for ideas on using etext versions of books in the absence of available paper-based versions for a literature course sparked a quick few ideas. The question was framed as “how could students engage in those texts in the same way that they would if they were on paper?” Given our upcoming roundtable on eBooks and eReaders (CTL event) I thought a more challenging question might be “how can we take advantage of the ‘digitalness’ of etexts to engage with them differently.” I thought I’d post a few ideas here both for reference and to generate some more ideas.

So, how would you use etexts in the classroom? Here are some to get started:

1) Annotations: pdf annotating applications let you highlight, add notes, underline, or otherwise mark up pdf files. The annotation feature is free in Preview (the pdf reader that is on every Mac) or there are other free annotation apps for other platforms. Annotations can be useful for student’s own note-taking, or, depending on your class, as a way to share student comments among students or with you.

2) Take advantage of the nature of etexts. While pulling quotes from a text is a longstanding tradition, copy/paste makes this easier. For example, if you traditionally ask students to write a rambling reflection about an entire article, consider asking for a reflection on the portion of the article that resonates most closely with them and have them include the section. This might result in less rambling and more focus.

3) Consider using some text analysis tools. A simple place to start is Paste in a chunk of text and see what words the author uses most frequently. Do any themes emerge? (Or, have them analyze something they have written: do they reuse some words too frequently? )

4) Word search: similar to #3, have students choose a word or words then search for that word through one or more texts. For example, a real question that I researched lately using Google Books: how does Jane Austen’s writing about clothing differ between her novels and her letters? Or, a combination: writer x uses the a particular word frequently. How does that compare to how writer y uses that word? (Compare Emerson and Thoreau for example, or Emerson and Alcott)

5) Wikipedia or blog activities: does the book or its author have a wikipedia page? No? Have the class create one. Is someone ‘out there’ (an individual, another class) blogging about this book or its author? Report on it back to the class, comment on the blog, or otherwise engage with the blog writer. Cross-course conversations can be scintillating.

6) Create a book: if your university uses WordPress for blogging, the students can post their writing there, then, with the help of a plug-in, Anthologize (still in beta but quite useful regardless) (, they can create pdf “books” of selected writing. So, create a class sourcebook of best summaries, or reaction pieces, or resources collected from around the web, or something that can be used (and annotated, etc.) by the next class.

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