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eLearning Tools for English Composition
30 New Media Tools and Web Sites for Writing Teachers

By Keri Bjorklund / March 2010

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I have been using technology to teach since I was a graduate student in 2001. I helped pilot the first hybrid English composition course while earning my MA, and I have been hooked on technology ever since. My goal is to have every English composition course in my district using technology.

I teach hybrid, blended, and online courses, and my students range from beginning college students to non-traditional adult learners.

One of the hurdles to getting faculty and students to use technology in education is introducing them to the right tools for their needs. A number of technologies are indispensible for any online course, but some apply specifically to teaching composition. While I may not use all of these tools every semester, these are the ones I think every online English instructor should explore.

Presenting Online

In an online learning environment, it is more important than ever to provide multimedia presentations. Students cannot simply read lecture notes. It's up to the instructors to provide the necessary resources and information that support student success.

The following tools will help create engaging and interesting presentations, whether used to teach the rules of citation, grammar, or any other writing topic.

Screen video capture program, TechSmith ($299)
Being in the digital age, students appreciate videos that show how to access resources, navigate the learning-management system, and improve their writing. I have even used Camtasia to make videos that teach students how to revise.

Screen video capture program, TechSmith (free; Pro version $14.95 per year )
Jing is an excellent and free alternative to Camtasia made by the same company; an enhanced Pro version is available for a small fee. The free version can record up to 5 minutes of video, which is enough time to respond to essays and make brief points about grammar and usage.

Hosting site for videos, TechSmith
(Pro account $9.95 per month for 25GB storage space and 200GB monthly bandwidth;
Free account 2GB storage space and 2GB monthly bandwidth)

Embedding video into a learning management system can be a hassle made even more challenging across different operating systems and various levels of students' technology abilities. Sharing videos in Screencast is as simple as directing students to a website. Screencast also provides code for embedding videos directly into email, websites, and blogs.

Cross-platform sound recorder and editor, (free)
Audacity lets you record questions, lectures, grading comments—really, any kind of audio. I also think it's a useful tool to know when assigning oral projects, such as a reading or other less visually-centric presentation. Students and instructors can upload or email files easily. Telephone- and VoIP-based podcasting/audio recording platform, Coalescent Systems ($0.10 per minute for telephone recordings, with 5 free minutes for new users) eliminates the need for a microphone and lets users create an audio blog entirely over the phone (or VoIP). It's also very handy for making audio notes on the go. Users dial in, record their audio, and share it afterward (files and links are saved to the user's account online). Students can create their own accounts as part of an assignment; have them read their essays, provide audio discussion points, or record an audio presentation.

Edmodo Online collaboration platform, Edmodo LLC (free)
Edmodo lets instructors form educational groups for their students. It provide a safe place for collaboration, document-sharing, and peer review. This resource is free and is similar to a learning management system, but it's easy to use and provides mobile access and easy linking to Twitter and other social sites.

Engaging Students Online

Engaging students goes well beyond slideshows and audio files. Students must interact with each other, the material, and the instructor.

The following Web 2.0 applications increase student engagement and build critical-thinking skills throughout the entire learning and writing processes.

Document creation and collaboration platform, Adobe (Premium Plus plan $39 per month; Premium Basic plan $14.99 per month)
Document creation and collaboration systems, such as this one from Adobe, let users collaborate on assignments, drafting their compositions, soliciting feedback, and editing collaboratively, all in one safe place.

Wiki, PBworks (Campus Edition $799 per year for 1,000 users)
Similar to Buzzword, PBworks is another system that lets students develop their wikis at either or I find PBWorks works well for a powerful lesson on revision and peer review. Students can see the changes as well as provide their own input on any document.

Peer Review

Want to get students away from simply commenting on grammatical or punctuation errors? They can conduct in-depth peer reviews using Turnitin in addition to the collaboration tools above. Turnitin provides peer review questions that link critical thinking skills with writing skills. You can even create your own questions and require a minimum word count for students. This keeps down the yes/no answers and forces them to think about the essay in front of them.

Online mind-map creation, Expert Software Applications (Basic free, Premium $6 per month, Team $9 per month per user)
In my day, creating a visual diagram of ideas was called "clustering" or "webbing." Today, it's mindmapping. Mindomo helps students visually brainstorm and share their ideas with classmates and instructors. The visuals provide an instant picture of the project and simplifies feedback. I use Mindomo for online and in-class presentations to help explain a particularly difficult concept and even to diagram sentences!

Polling tool, Poll Everywhere Inc. (free version available, or tiered pricing for individuals and organizations)
Polls provide an answer to the expensive classroom clickers. PollEverywhere lets students respond to polls, engage in discussion, and receive live results through texting, social networking, and the web. It's easy to embed polls from this site in any learning management system.

Avatar and animation creating tool, Mobinex Inc. (free)
Avatars and animation greatly enhance students' level of engagement. You can use Mobinex to create a talking avatar, either human or otherwise, using this animation software using this software and a webcam.

Crazy Talk
Facial animation and voiceover tool, Reallusion (Standard $50, Pro $150)
This face puppet animation software can turn a regular lecture into an attention-grabber. Turn any still photo into a moving, talking, interactive image.

Site Pal
Facial animation and voiceover tool, Oddcast (from $10 per month)
A time-saving alternative to CrazyTalk, SitePal helps you create professional, moving, talking avatars. It's most useful for brief eye-catching announcements.

Providing Feedback

Timely feedback is fundamental to student success, but for it to be effective, it must also be efficient. When it comes to responding to student writing, the following tools are huge assets to instructors. And when used in combination, they can transform mundane grading into interactive and powerful teachable moments.
Suite of tools for plagiarism checking, peer review, grading, and more; iParadigms (price quotes available upon request)
Originally an anti-plagiarism site, Turnitin has evolved into an indispensible teaching and grading tool. Students upload essays, check the originality of their content against a database of papers, and learn how to avoid plagiarism. It's also an electronic grading tool and a valuable resource for teaching citation and research. Peer review is another option that electronically disperses essays to students.

Plagiarism prevention service, Blackboard (free for Blackboard enterprise clients)
Available with Blackboard, SafeAssign is an alternative to Turnitin. Other sites are available for free, such as and, but they tend to check against web sites rather than resource databases.

Paperless grading tool that's part of WriteCycle, iParadigms (price quotes available upon request)
Grademark is part of Turnitin, and it's a tool I cannot live without. Simply drag and drop comments in any essay, quickly create and save personalized comments, create rubrics, or incorporate tools already available in Grademark. It cut my grading time in half.

Learn Central
Web conferencing tool and social network for educators, Elluminate (free)
If you prefer web conferencing to video, Elluminate's Learn Central is a good option for giving feedback on students' writing. If you want it free for one-on-one web conferencing, check out Learn Central. It's an alternative for the complete software and for Skype.

Additionally, Camtasia, Jing, and Adobe Captivate (mentioned previously) also contain tools for providing feedback. Most let you video record your comments on student essays or other writing assignments. It's like having a brief conference with the student. To keep it short, I recommend using Jing, which limits videos to 5 minutes.

Online Writing Resources

Students and instructors are always on the lookout for time-saving strategies. These resources save time and provide valuable and accurate assistance in writing, researching, documenting sources, and grammar help. I access several of these resources daily.
Online dictionary
There are several dictionary sites, but this is still my favorite at providing original Latin roots, example sentences, and multiple definitions. It has a thesaurus tab at the top for switching easily between it and the dictionary, as well as other reference databases for any subject.

Visual dictionary and thesaurus
Want a visual thesaurus or dictionary? Try visuwords. This visual thesaurus and dictionary also provides color-coded parts of speech, so you can access it for a brief grammar lesson as well. These also connect to
All-around reference/search tool
Can't remember when John Milton was born? Look it up at Access Harvard Classics, Bartlett's Quotations, Gray's Anatomy, among others, in seconds.

Online writing reference
Produced by Purdue University, this free online writing lab provides writing resources for students and instructors alike. For the student, it provides instructions for writing academic essays, outlines, conducting research, citing sources, and more. For the instructor, it provides power points on writing research papers, explaining literary analysis as well as on basic grammatical concepts. OWL also has its own grammar blog, a must-have for any busy online English instructor.

The Norton Field Guide to Writing
Resources for writers
No longer subject to fees and textbook purchase, the Norton Guide site is a must for writers and English teachers alike. Easy links contain writing guides, sample essays, research and documentation guides, as well as exercises to help all writers brush-up on their grammar skills.

Richard's Grammar & Composition Blog
Richard Nordquist's column on, "Guide to Grammar & Composition"
This blog, from, provides a way to talk about grammar and writing in the modern world. The author connects what some may think of as "boring" grammar topics to a real world context. Often fascinating, it provides inspiration for teaching and learning grammar and composition.

Research and Documentation Online
Hadbook for finding and citing sources
Created by author Diana Hacker, this site assists students in documenting sources in each of the four style manuals. All my students use it.

Citation software
There are a number of citation assistants online; however, not all of them are accurate. Some writing instructors encourage students to stay away from them, but if you don't mind students using citation software, I recommend EasyBib. It's user-friendly, accurate, and free.

Sites for Writing Inspiration

Not only do students need writing inspiration, instructors do, too. It's important to keep up your own writing, but when inundated with mounds of essays to read and grade, finding time and inspiration to write is daunting. So whether you direct your students to these sites or keep them to yourself, you're bound to find inspiration.

Opposing Views
The hardest part for any beginning writer is to know what topic to pick. One of the most powerful inspiration tools is Opposing Views. Students and instructors find information on current events, politics, and can conduct online polls for their own research.

Academic Earth
Academic Earth offers video lectures on various topics ranging from literature to engineering. It's a plethora of information that would inspire any writer.

UMW Blogs
University of Mary Washington hosts this blog project in which users post video and print blogs on a variety of topics. Students can use this site for brainstorming topics for essays and presentations. My favorite is "Looking for Whitman."

Google Author Talks
Get inspired from authors across all walks of life through Google Author Talks. The series of videos conversations from authors on their work and the creative process is a gold mine.

Inspire student and instructor presentations with word clouds. Break up the monotony of student PowerPoint presentations.

About the Author

Keri Bjorklund, MA, teaches online and traditional English composition, literature, and creative writing at Sheridan College, part of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. She has been teaching online for eight years and has taught blended and technology enhanced courses for nine.


  • Thu, 09 Apr 2015
    Post by Liz Verano

    Hey thanks for sharing this article on new media tools and web sites for writing teachers because this will help a lot of teachers who seek for online references on guidelines of writing.

    More eLearning ideas on this site:

  • Wed, 29 Oct 2014
    Post by vanessahillh

    What about Article? Life Experience Degree Thats another big Article Source of Online College Degrees and Master Degree.

  • Fri, 14 May 2010
    Post by cmd

    for inspiration and building up a general knowledge base in any particular topic area , might want to try out iCurrent -- a new information discovery service

  • Fri, 30 Apr 2010
    Post by Liz Dzabic

    Thank you very much for a thoughtfully compiled and useful list of tools!

  • Tue, 06 Apr 2010
    Post by Shane

    Keri, Thank you for your list. I have gone on to read your blog. I find your ideas inspiring and would love to interview you as an innovator for an assignment which is part of my Masters in Online and Distance Education. If you can oblige please send acknowledge as soon as you can, as I am behind schedule already. Hope to hear from you soon, regards, Shane.

  • Thu, 01 Apr 2010
    Post by Courtney

    Just wondering if you blocked these messages as well! Great job with the article.

  • Thu, 01 Apr 2010
    Post by Keri Bjorklund

    Thank you for your comments. Richard, you make an excellent point about GradeMark and I appreciate the additional resource of MY Access!

    I'll have to check out, too. :) It looks promising.

    Thank you for the feedback! Keep it coming! Keri

  • Thu, 01 Apr 2010
    Post by Nemo

    Disclaimer: I do work for Bloomfire, but our users and fans think we would fit right on this list. We're a new collaborative learning platform that received rave reviews at the recent Learning Solutions 2010 Conference. Although we launched 2 weeks ago, we've been in development for over a year and early adopters include Stryker, Kellogg's,, etc. We've got featured that merge many of the above technologies into one platform for seamless integration, including peer review, online delivery, and authoring. If interested, check out

  • Wed, 31 Mar 2010
    Post by Patty Terry

    I've enjoyed teaching online for nearly a decade, but as I near retirement, energy wanes, that is until I read this article. I feel excited to infuse my courses with some of these innovative strategies. Thanks, Keri.

  • Tue, 30 Mar 2010
    Post by Richard Oppenheimer


    Excellent list! All of these tools are very helpful, especially in the online environment where I currently work.

    If I may comment a bit on GradeMark, I have found that the soft key areas are customizable so that instructors may include specific items that they are concentrating on for a given assignment. In addition, students who select the instructor's note can be taken instantly to a Handbook that enables the student to read the rule and possibly see some examples to reinforce the concept.

    One other tool that might be of interest is a similar tool to GradeMark is MY Access!® College Edition. This tool provides feedback to the student in any one of 22 (last year) student-selected languages. Thus, the student who is an ESL or ESOL student can have the rules for writing correct English presented to them in their native language until they have mastered English. This is one of the only tools I have seen in my career that I wish I would have thought of myself!

    Thanks again for providing this list in a succinct and usable format.

    Best regards,

    Richard Oppenheimer

  • Wed, 16 Nov 2005
    Post by Mangala Sunder Krishnan

    It is quite disturbing to note that there are many certification courses online which do not result in comprehension of the subject matter studied. Surely there must be a way to limit practices of the sort that you described as, nothing other than a preliminary exposure to other more elaborate learning requirements before one is "certified". Thank you very much for bringing out the fact that poorly designed computer exams are detrimental to the program of e-learning itself. Regards, Sunder.