Sunday, August 11, 2013

Using DropItToMe To Collect Student Work

In our netbook classroom everyone has their own netbook. We use them daily for multiple projects and assignments. When it comes time to turn in work done on netbooks I have my students do it electronically rather than printing them out and turning in paper. This has several advantages:

  • saves paper and trees
  • reduces paper clutter
  • student still has his copy as backup
  • teacher has a duplicate and can edit as needed
  • teacher can do grading and feedback work on preferred device 
  • the option always exists to print out the papers
  • teacher and student can collaborate using email or another system

Dropbox for File Management

In the past, since all our students have Dropbox installed on their netbooks, I would share a folder with them and have each student place a copy of their assignment file in the appropriate shared folder. For example:
  • book report turn in folder Q1
  • beginning of year story turn in folder
  • space camp podcast turn in folder
You get the idea. Each student had access to each of these "turn in" folders and simply copied-and-pasted their file into the appropriate folder. In turn, I would see all the files come in as students did their thing. Unfortunately, each student could see all the other students' files, too! Occasionally, someone messed up and we lost a few files due to student error or prank.

DropItTo.Me As In-between Step

Now, we use DropItToMe. My DropItToMe account is tied to my Dropbox account. Students log into DropItToMe, upload their assignment or project file(s), and log out. That's it from their perspective. They don't need to accept my shared folder invitations for each and every project or assignment "turn in" folder. They simply remember one thing: DropItToMe. In fact, I have a link to my DropItToMe account on my website. Take a look. You can't hurt it without my password!

On my end I receive students' work, nicely organized by student number as follows:
  • 01george math17
  • 02sam math17
  • 03sally spelling22
  • 04mary science43
  • 04mary spelling22
I can control-click on all the spelling, for example, and highlight the whole batch at once. Then, I drag those files into my spelling folder. Next, I control-click (command-click on a Mac) on the math, and so on, until all my files are organized in an appropriate folder, leaving my DropItToMe folder empty until a new student file comes in. Sometimes I also move certain folders out of my Dropbox to save space. That happens with audio or video files that may be quite large and use up my limited Dropbox space.

The process above is similar to what we do with paper, except I do all the sorting with electronic files. With paper I have a bin for each assignment due that morning and students self-sort their work into the appropriate bin. With electronic work I found it safer and easier to do the batch selection and sorting myself. Plus, if a student files his work with the correct filename, it's easy to do a quick SEARCH for anything that comes up missing. This system hasn't eliminated missing student files, but it's made my job easier when I need to track down a file. Once again, if a student has followed directions and has the original file still in his dropbox folder, he can simply re-send it via my DropItToMe account. We do that all the time, since students do forget. The biggest problem is mis-named files. My policy is to not even open files named "untitled" or "book report" since I don't know at a glance whose file it is. Often, even opening the file will yield no information about student identity. So, I've simply told my students to re-submit the files and check your filename first. As a last resort in a few cases I've opened up "untitled" and discovered it was Johnny's missing assignment. Of course, he also neglected to keep the original, so this was the only way to retrieve his work. Fortunately, this happens only occasionally. As I often say to parents of students in my computer classes: learning to use a computer is as much about listening and following directions as it is about learning to use Windows or Open Office. If you teach children (or adults) you know what I mean.

Give DropItToMe a try. It's a great addition to your Dropbox workflow as a teacher. It works great for any project—even projects unrelated to teaching, learning, teachers and students — where you must collaborate with others and collect their digital project files into one central place for further work to be done. 

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