My daughter Katie uses OpenOffice for her high school papers and saves her papers in ODF. She is one cool kid, if you ask me. I did not force this choice upon her. In August when I spoke at the United Nations, I was fortunate enough to get permission to bring her along, so she spent a full day listening to talks and debates by pro-open source people and Microsoft. She even sat next to Richard Stallman at lunch. That evening she decided unilaterally to start using OpenOffice because it was open source. She downloaded it, installed it, and hasn’t asked me one question about how to use it.
Anyway, this got me to thinking that it’s kind of silly for her to print out her papers, hand them in, and then get the marked up and graded physical papers back. It would make far more sense for her to use something like Google Docs, Zoho, Joyent, or one of the other online office suites to write her paper. Minimally, she could write it in an ODF-compliant word processor and then import it into the online system so that it could be shared.
On the other end, her teacher could manage all the papers from all the students in some nice organized way. There could be ways to both view all the papers by assignment as well as by student. The system could also deal with drafts of the same paper as they went through the writing and review process.
When a student decided it was time to submit a paper, only then could a teacher see it. When a teacher was finished with his or her markup, only then could the student see it. For group projects, multiple students could have read/write access to the same paper.
For papers such as I am envisioning for high school and college, only a small subset of word processing features would be necessary, though they would clearly have to handle footnotes or backnotes as well as comments and edits. ODF handles all this and more. No papers need to be ever printed out.
Since ODF is relatively small and is well designed, it wouldn’t be that hard to write applications. For example, you can imagine an application that extracted snippets from papers and compared them with content via web searches or something more elaborate. I’m sure you can think of other tools as well.
We now have the technology pieces to do this online and you could even have a cool AJAXy interface. What are we waiting for?