Alternatives to MS Word

As instructors continue to increase the number of online courses MCC offers, as well as continue to shift from paper to electronic homework submissions, we are beginning to notice the following two trends:
1. many of our students do not own MS Word; therefore,
2. an increasing number of our students electronically submit documents that are not in the “.doc” format.

There are a few easy suggestions to help with this issues.

I’ll start by addressing the second issue first. The various document types being submitted are the result of the first issue; however, it can be easily solved by requesting that your student submit everything in Rich Text Format (.rtf). RTF is a format that all word processors can read. All word processors allow users to “save as.” When given the option to rename the document, users can also change the “type” of file that is being saved. However, be warned, if you decide to require that your students submit via RTF, it means you should also only be uploading or sharing RTF documents with them. Fair is fair!

Although it would be nice to require that students purchase MS Word, that is an unrealistic expectation. Not only is it expensive; however, now there is both MS Word 2003 and MS Word 2007 (which saves files as “.docx”–immediately taking us to the second issue again). There are some alternatives.

For our students who own their own computers, they can easily download some open source alternatives.

  • Open Office: Open office is the open source equivalent of MS Office. It is not quite as robust (it does not include every bell and whistle); however, it includes word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Students can easily “save as” in any of these tools to the MS Office equivalent format.
  • AbiWord: AbiWord is a nice, tight, word processing program that should function find for most students who are not doing massively formatted documents.

For our students who do not own their own computer, and sometime have to work from computers that do not have a word processing program installed on it (like many public libraries), there are now some rather robust web-based word processing tools. While the web-based office tools are no where near as sophisticated in their formatting abilities, both of the ones listed below do allow for users to share documents with others, and even do synchronous editing.

  • ThinkFree: ThinkFree includes web-based word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software.
  • Google Documents: Currently Google Docs only has word processing and spreadsheet software; however, they claim they are developing presentation software. Right now our students already have accessing to using Google Docs if they sign up for the “Gmail” option through the portal.

One Comment

  1. Susan Crawford PhD says:

    I recommend Open Office. There are FREE versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I have a link on my class WebCT page to the free download for this full feature office suite. You can save documents into whatever format the instructor needs. However, having said that, I have been unable to open attachments to emails within WebCT since the “upgrade” between Fall 07 and Spring 08. If you open multiple assignments at the same time, only the first attachment will open. So, I just have students copy and paste their work into the body of the email.
    Regards, Susan Crawford PhD

Leave a Comment